Activation of NRF2 by topical apocarotenoid treatment mitigates radiation-induced dermatitis

Cody J. Schmidlin, Montserrat Rojo de la Vega, Jessica Perer, Donna D. Zhang, Georg T. Wondrak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Radiation therapy is a frontline treatment option for cancer patients; however, the effects of radiotherapy on non-tumor tissue (e.g. radiation-induced dermatitis) often worsen patient quality of life. Previous studies have implicated the importance of redox balance in preventing dermatitis, specifically in reference to modulation of the nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (NRF2) signaling pathway. Due to the cytoprotective functions of transcriptional target genes of NRF2, we investigated how modulation of NRF2 expression could affect DNA damage, oxidative stress, and cell viability in response to radiotherapy. Specifically, it was noted that NRF2 knockdown sensitized human skin keratinocytes to ionizing radiation; likewise, genetic ablation of NRF2 in vivo increased radiosensitivity of murine epidermis. Oppositely, pharmacological induction of NRF2 via the apocarotenoid bixin lowered markers of DNA damage and oxidative stress, while preserving viability in irradiated keratinocytes. Mechanistic studies indicated that topical pretreatment using bixin as an NRF2 activator antagonized initial DNA damage by raising cellular glutathione levels. Additionally, topical application of bixin prevented radiation-induced dermatitis, epidermal thickening, and oxidative stress in the skin of SKH1 mice. Overall, these data indicate that NRF2 is critical for mitigating the harmful skin toxicities associated with ionizing radiation, and that topical upregulation of NRF2 via bixin could prevent radiation-induced dermatitis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101714
JournalRedox Biology
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Bixin
  • Cancer
  • NRF2
  • Radiation-induced dermatitis
  • Radiotherapy
  • Skin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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