NRF2 addiction in cancer cells

Cancer Sci. 2018 Apr;109(4):900-911. doi: 10.1111/cas.13537. Epub 2018 Mar 10.


The Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1/nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-like 2 (KEAP1-NRF2) system is a pivotal defense mechanism against oxidative and electrophilic stress. Although transient NRF2 activation in response to stress is beneficial for health, persistent NRF2 activation in cancer cells has deleterious effects on cancer-bearing hosts by conferring therapeutic resistance and aggressive tumorigenic activity on cancer cells. Because NRF2 increases the antioxidant and detoxification capability of cancer cells, persistently high levels of NRF2 activity enhance therapeutic resistance of cancer cells. NRF2 also drives metabolic reprogramming to establish cellular metabolic processes that are advantageous for cell proliferation in cooperation with other oncogenic pathways. As a result of these advantages, cancer cells with persistent activation of NRF2 often develop "NRF2 addiction" and show malignant phenotypes leading to poor prognoses in cancer patients. Inhibition of NRF2 is a promising therapeutic approach for NRF2-addicted cancers and NRF2 inhibitors are being actively developed. However, giving systemic NRF2 inhibitors might have undesirable effects on cancer-bearing hosts, considering the central roles of NRF2 in cytoprotection. To avoid these side-effects, new therapeutic targets besides NRF2 for NRF2-addicted cancers have been actively explored. This review introduces recent studies describing the development and characterization of NRF2-addicted cancers, as well as their potential therapeutic targets. Expected advances in diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for NRF2-addicted cancers are also discussed.

Keywords: KEAP1; NRF2; metabolic reprogramming; therapeutic resistance; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Humans
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2