Dimethyl fumarate inhibits the nuclear factor κB pathway in breast cancer cells by covalent modification of p65 protein

Irida Kastrati, Marton I. Siklos, Esther L. Calderon-Gierszal, Lamiaa El-Shennawy, Gergana Georgieva, Emily N. Thayer, Gregory R.J. Thatcher, Jonna Frasor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


In breast tumors, activation of the nuclear factor κB (NFκB) pathway promotes survival, migration, invasion, angiogenesis, stem cell-like properties, and resistance to therapy - all pheno-types of aggressive disease where therapy options remain limited. Adding an anti-inflammatory/anti-NFκB agent to breast cancer treatment would be beneficial, but no such drug is approved as either a monotherapy or adjuvant therapy. To address this need, we examined whether dimethyl fumarate (DMF), an anti-inflammatory drug already in clinical use for multiple sclerosis, can inhibit the NFκB pathway. We found that DMF effectively blocks NFκB activity in multiple breast cancer cell lines and abrogates NFκB-dependent mammosphere formation, indicating that DMF has anti-cancer stem cell properties. In addition, DMF inhibits cell proliferation and significantly impairs xenograft tumor growth. Mechanistically, DMF prevents p65 nuclear translocation and attenuates its DNA binding activity but has no effect on upstream proteins in the NFκB pathway. Dimethyl succinate, the inactive analog of DMF that lacks the electrophilic double bond of fumarate, is unable to inhibit NFκB activity. Also, the cell-permeable thiol N-acetyl L-cysteine, reverses DMF inhibition of the NFκB pathway, supporting the notion that the electrophile, DMF, acts via covalent modification. To determine whether DMF interacts directly with p65, we synthesized and used a novel chemical probe of DMF by incorporating an alkyne functionality and found that DMF covalently modifies p65, with cysteine 38 being essential for the activity of DMF. These results establish DMF as an NFKB inhibitor with anti-tumor activity that may add therapeutic value in the treatment of aggressive breast cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3639-3647
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 12 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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