NRF2 and p53: Januses in cancer?

Barak Rotblat, Gerry Melino _ and Richard A. Knight

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Oncotarget. 2012; 3:1272-1283. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.754

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Barak Rotblat1, Gerry Melino1,2, Richard A. Knight1

1 Medical research Council, Toxicology Unit, Leicester University, Leicester, UK

2 Biochemistry IDI-IRCCS Laboratory, Department of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, University of Rom ‘Tor Vergata’, Rome, Italy


Gerry Melino, email:

Keywords: P53, p73, TIGAR, p21, NQO1, NADPH, ROS, metabolism, proteasome, KEAP1, MDM2, chemotherapy, BSO, piperlongumine, BPTES, brusatol

Received: November 1, 2012, Accepted: November 19, 2012, Published: November 19, 2012


The transcription factor nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2, also known as NFE2L2 or NRF2, is a master regulator of the anti-oxidative stress response and positively controls the expression of a battery of anti-oxidative stress response proteins and enzymes implicated in detoxification and glutathione generation. Although its detoxifying activity is important in cancer prevention, it has recently been shown that cancer cells also exploit its protective functions to thrive and resist chemotherapy. NRF2 was also shown to the pentose phosphate pathway and glutaminolysis, which promotes purine synthesis for supporting rapid proliferation and glutathione for providing anti-oxidative stress protection. Evidence obtained from cancer patients and cell lines suggest that NRF2 is highly active in a variety of human cancers and is associated with aggressiveness. p53 is a tumor suppressor that also promotes an anti-oxidative stress metabolic program and glutaminolysis. Here we will discuss the similarities between NRF2 and p53 and review evidence that p53 might be exploited by cancer cells to gain protection against oxidative stress, as is the case for NRF2. We discuss findings of co-regulation between these transcription factors and propose possible therapeutic strategies that can be used for treatment of cancers that harbor WT p53 and express high levels of NRF2.

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