Research Papers:

Chemoprevention of oxidative stress-associated oral carcinogenesis by sulforaphane depends on NRF2 and the isothiocyanate moiety

Aixian Lan, Wenjun Li, Yao Liu, Zhaohui Xiong, Xinyan Zhang, Shanshan Zhou, Olesya Palko, Hao Chen, Mayanga Kapita, Justin R. Prigge, Edward E. Schmidt, Xin Chen, Zheng Sun and Xiaoxin Luke Chen _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:53502-53514. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.10609

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Aixian Lan1,*, Wenjun Li1,*, Yao Liu1, Zhaohui Xiong2, Xinyan Zhang1, Shanshan Zhou3, Olesya Palko2, Hao Chen2, Mayanga Kapita2, Justin R. Prigge4, Edward E. Schmidt4, Xin Chen3, Zheng Sun1, Xiaoxin Luke Chen2

1Department of Oral Medicine, Beijing Stomatological Hospital & School of Stomatology, Capital Medical University, Beijing 100050, China

2Cancer Research Program, JLC-BBRI, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC 27707, USA

3Department of Pharmaceutical Engineering, School of Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences, Changzhou University, Jiangsu 213164, China

4Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Xin Chen, email: [email protected]

Zheng Sun, email: [email protected]

Xiaoxin Luke Chen, email: [email protected]

Keywords: oral cancer, chemoprevention, NRF2, sulforaphane, 4NQO

Received: May 04, 2016    Accepted: June 03, 2016    Published: July 15, 2016


Oxidative stress is known to play an important role in oral cancer development. In this study we aimed to examine whether a chemical activator of NRF2, sulforaphane (SFN), may have chemopreventive effects on oxidative stress-associated oral carcinogenesis. We first showed that Nrf2 activation and oxidative damage were commonly seen in human samples of oral leukoplakia. With gene microarray and immunostaining, we found 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide (4NQO) in drink activated the Nrf2 pathway and produced oxidative damage in mouse tongue. Meanwhile whole exome sequencing of mouse tongue identified mutations consistent with 4NQO’s mutagenic profile. Using cultured human oral keratinocytes and 4NQO-treated mouse tongue, we found that SFN pre-treatment activated the NRF2 pathway and inhibited oxidative damage both in vitro and in vivo. On the contrary, a structural analogue of SFN without the isothiocyanate moiety did not have such effects. In a long-term chemoprevention study using wild-type and Nrf2-/- mice, we showed that topical application of SFN activated the NRF2 pathway, inhibited oxidative damage, and prevented 4NQO-induced oral carcinogenesis in an Nrf2-dependent manner. Our data clearly demonstrate that SFN has chemopreventive effects on oxidative stress-associated oral carcinogenesis, and such effects depend on Nrf2 and the isothiocyanate moiety.

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