The keap1–nrf2 system as a molecular target of cancer treatment

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The Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (KEAP1)– Nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-like 2 (encoded by the Nfe2l2 gene; NRF2) system attracts extensive interest from scientists in basic and clinical cancer research fields, as NRF2 exhibits activity as both an oncogene and tumor suppressor, depending on the context. Especially unique and malignant, NRF2-addicted cancers exhibit high levels of NRF2 expression. Somatic mutations identified in the NRF2 or KEAP1 genes of NRF2-addicted cancers cause the stabilization and accumulation of NRF2. NRF2-addicted cancers hijack the intrinsic roles that NRF2 plays in cytoprotection, including antioxidative and anti-electrophilic responses, as well as metabolic reprogramming, and acquire a marked advantage to survive under severe and limited microenvironments. Therefore, NRF2 inhibitors are expected to have therapeutic effects in patients with NRF2-addicted cancers. In contrast, NRF2 activation in host immune cells exerts significant suppression of cancer cell growth, indicating that NRF2 inducers also have the potential to be therapeutics for cancers. Thus, the KEAP1–NRF2 system makes a broad range of contributions to both cancer development and suppression. These observations thus demonstrate that both NRF2 inhibitors and inducers are useful for the treatment of cancers with high NRF2 activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jan


  • Adaptive response
  • KEAP1
  • NRF2
  • NRF2-addicted cancers


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