Role of KEAP1/NFE2L2 Mutations in the Chemotherapeutic Response of Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Jan 1;26(1):274-281. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-19-1237. Epub 2019 Sep 23.


Purpose: Activation of NFE2L2 has been linked to chemoresistance in cell line models. Recently, somatic mutations that activate NFE2L2, including mutations in NFE2L2, KEAP1, or CUL3, have been found to be associated with poor outcomes in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, the impact of these mutations on chemoresistance remains incompletely explored.

Experimental design: We investigated the effect of Keap1 deletion on chemoresistance in cell lines from Trp53-based mouse models of lung squamous cell carcinoma (LSCC) and lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD). Separately, we identified 51 patients with stage IV NSCLC with KEAP1, NFE2L2, or CUL3 mutations and a matched cohort of 52 wild-type patients. Time to treatment failure after first-line platinum doublet chemotherapy and overall survival was compared between the two groups.

Results: Deletion of Keap1 in Trp53-null murine LUAD and LSCC resulted in increased clonogenic survival upon treatment with diverse cytotoxic chemotherapies. In patients with NSCLC, median time to treatment failure (TTF) after first-line chemotherapy for the KEAP1/NFE2L2/CUL3-mutant cohort was 2.8 months compared with 8.3 months in the control group (P < 0.0001). Median overall survival (OS) was 11.2 months in the KEAP1/NFE2L2/CUL3-mutant group and 36.8 months in the control group (P = 0.006).

Conclusions: Keap1 deletion confers chemoresistance in murine lung cancer cells. Patients with metastatic NSCLC with mutations in KEAP1, NFE2L2, or CUL3 have shorter TTF and OS after first-line platinum doublet chemotherapy compared with matched controls. Novel approaches for improving outcomes in this subset of patients with NSCLC are therefore needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Carboplatin / administration & dosage
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Cisplatin / administration & dosage
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Etoposide / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / genetics*
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Paclitaxel / administration & dosage
  • Prognosis
  • Spheroids, Cellular
  • Survival Rate


  • KEAP1 protein, human
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Etoposide
  • Carboplatin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Cisplatin