Targeting NRF2 to treat cancer

Jared Sivinski, Donna D. Zhang, Eli Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


NRF2 is a basic leucine zipper (bZip) transcription factor that is the master regulator of redox homeostasis. Under basal conditions, the cellular level of NRF2 is low due to a posttranslational regulation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). But, when an organism is challenged with oxidative or xenobiotic stress, the NRF2 pathway is activated by inhibition of the E3 ubiquitin ligase complex that normally marks NRF2 for destruction. For several decades, researchers have searched for molecules that can intentionally activate NRF2, as this was shown to be a means to prevent certain diseases, at least in animal models. In the present era, there are many compounds known to activate the NRF2 pathway including natural products and synthetic compounds, covalent and non-covalent compounds, and others. However, it was also revealed that like many protective pathways, the NRF2 pathway has a dark side. Just as NRF2 can protect normal cells from damage, it can protect malignant cells from damage. As cells transform, they are exposed to many stressors and aberrant upregulation of NRF2 can facilitate transformation and it can help cancer cells to grow, to spread, and to resist treatment. For this reason, researchers are also interested in the discovery and development of NRF2 inhibitors. In the present review, we will begin with a general discussion of NRF2 structure and function, we will discuss the latest in NRF2 non-covalent activators, and we will discuss the current state of NRF2 inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-73
Number of pages13
JournalSeminars in Cancer Biology
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Cancer
  • Chemoprevention
  • NRF2
  • Transcription factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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