Nrf2 and SQSTM1/p62 jointly contribute to mesenchymal transition and invasion in glioblastoma

Oncogene. 2019 Dec;38(50):7473-7490. doi: 10.1038/s41388-019-0956-6. Epub 2019 Aug 23.


Accumulating evidence suggests that constitutively active Nrf2 has a pivotal role in cancer as it induces pro-survival genes that promote cancer cell proliferation and chemoresistance. The mechanisms of Nrf2 dysregulation and functions in cancer have not been fully characterized. Here, we jointly analyzed the Broad-Novartis Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) and the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) multi-omics data in order to identify cancer types where Nrf2 activation is present. We found that Nrf2 is hyperactivated in a subset of glioblastoma (GBM) patients, whose tumors display a mesenchymal subtype, and uncover several different mechanisms contributing to increased Nrf2 activity. Importantly, we identified a positive feedback loop between SQSTM1/p62 and Nrf2 as a mechanism for activation of the Nrf2 pathway. We also show that autophagy and serine/threonine signaling regulates p62 mediated Keap1 degradation. Our results in glioma cell lines indicate that both Nrf2 and p62 promote proliferation, invasion and mesenchymal transition. Finally, Nrf2 activity was associated with decreased progression free survival in TCGA GBM patient samples, suggesting that treatments have limited efficacy if this transcription factor is overactivated. Overall, our findings place Nrf2 and p62 as the key components of the mesenchymal subtype network, with implications to tumorigenesis and treatment resistance. Thus, Nrf2 activation could be used as a surrogate prognostic marker in mesenchymal subtype GBMs. Furthermore, strategies aiming at either inhibiting Nrf2 or exploiting Nrf2 hyperactivity for targeted gene therapy may provide novel treatment options for this subset of GBM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / genetics
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Glioblastoma / genetics*
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / genetics*
  • Male
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / genetics
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Progression-Free Survival
  • Protein Binding / genetics
  • Sequestosome-1 Protein / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction


  • KEAP1 protein, human
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • SQSTM1 protein, human
  • Sequestosome-1 Protein