Research Papers:

Activation of NRF2 by p62 and proteasome reduction in sphere-forming breast carcinoma cells

In-geun Ryoo _, Bo-hyun Choi and Mi-Kyoung Kwak

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:8167-8184. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.3047

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In-geun Ryoo1, Bo-hyun Choi1, Mi-Kyoung Kwak1

1College of Pharmacy, The Catholic University of Korea, Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do, Republic of Korea

Correspondence to:

Mi-Kyoung Kwak, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: mammospheres, cancer stem cell, resistance, NRF2, p62

Received: October 02, 2014     Accepted: January 07, 2015     Published: February 27, 2015


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) express high levels of drug efflux transporters and antioxidant genes, and are therefore believed to be responsible for cancer recurrence following chemo/radiotherapy intervention. In this study, we investigated the role of NF-E2-related factor 2 (NRF2), a master regulator of antioxidant gene expression, in the growth and stress resistance of CSC-enriched mammosphere. The MCF7 mammospheres expressed significantly higher levels of the NRF2 protein and target gene expression compared to the monolayer. As underlying mechanisms, we observed that proteolytic activity and expression of the proteasome catalytic subunits were decreased in the mammospheres. Additionally, mammospheres retained a high level of p62 and the silencing of p62 was observed to attenuate NRF2 activation. NRF2 increase was confirmed in sphere-cultures of the colon and ovarian cancer cells. The functional implication of NRF2 was demonstrated in NRF2-knockdown mammospheres. NRF2-silenced mammospheres demonstrated increased cell death and retarded sphere growth as a result of target gene repression. Moreover, unlike the control mammospheres, NRF2-knockdown mammospheres did not develop anticancer drug resistance. Collectively, these results indicated that altered proteasome function and p62 expression caused NRF2 activation in CSC-enriched mammospheres. In addition, NRF2 appeared to play a role in CSC survival and anticancer drug resistance.

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