Inhibition of the Nrf2 transcription factor by the alkaloid trigonelline renders pancreatic cancer cells more susceptible to apoptosis through decreased proteasomal gene expression and proteasome activity

Oncogene. 2013 Oct;32(40):4825-35. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.493. Epub 2012 Oct 29.


Evidence accumulates that the transcription factor nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) has an essential role in cancer development and chemoresistance, thus pointing to its potential as an anticancer target and undermining its suitability in chemoprevention. Through the induction of cytoprotective and proteasomal genes, Nrf2 confers apoptosis protection in tumor cells, and inhibiting Nrf2 would therefore be an efficient strategy in anticancer therapy. In the present study, pancreatic carcinoma cell lines (Panc1, Colo357 and MiaPaca2) and H6c7 pancreatic duct cells were analyzed for the Nrf2-inhibitory effect of the coffee alkaloid trigonelline (trig), as well as for its impact on Nrf2-dependent proteasome activity and resistance to tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) and anticancer drug-induced apoptosis. Chemoresistant Panc1 and Colo357 cells exhibit high constitutive Nrf2 activity, whereas chemosensitive MiaPaca2 and H6c7 cells display little basal but strong tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ)-inducible Nrf2 activity and drug resistance. Trig efficiently decreased basal and tBHQ-induced Nrf2 activity in all cell lines, an effect relying on a reduced nuclear accumulation of the Nrf2 protein. Along with Nrf2 inhibition, trig blocked the Nrf2-dependent expression of proteasomal genes (for example, s5a/psmd4 and α5/psma5) and reduced proteasome activity in all cell lines tested. These blocking effects were absent after treatment with Nrf2 siRNA, a condition in which proteasomal gene expression and proteasome activity were already decreased, whereas siRNA against the related transcription factor Nrf1 did not affect proteasome activity and the inhibitory effect of trig. Depending on both Nrf2 and proteasomal gene expression, the sensitivity of all cell lines to anticancer drugs and TRAIL-induced apoptosis was enhanced by trig. Moreover, greater antitumor responses toward anticancer drug treatment were observed in tumor-bearing mice when receiving trig. In conclusion, representing an efficient Nrf2 inhibitor capable of blocking Nrf2-dependent proteasome activity and thereby apoptosis protection in pancreatic cancer cells, trig might be beneficial in improving anticancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Etoposide / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / genetics
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism*
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / pharmacology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Alkaloids
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • trigonelline
  • Etoposide
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex