The Cancer Genome Atlas catalogued alterations in the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 and nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (NRF2) signaling pathway in 6.3% of patient samples across 226 studies, with significant enrichment in lung and upper airway cancers. These alterations constitutively activate NRF2-dependent gene transcription to promote many of the cancer hallmarks, including cellular resistance to oxidative stress, xenobiotic efflux, proliferation, and metabolic reprogramming. Almost universally, NRF2 activity strongly associates with poor patient prognosis and chemo- and radioresistance. Yet to date, FDA-approved drugs targeting NRF2 activity in cancer have not been realized. Here, we review various mechanisms that contribute to NRF2 activation in cancer, organized around the central dogma of molecular biology (i) at the DNA level with genomic and epigenetic alterations, (ii) at the RNA level including differential mRNA splicing and stability, and (iii) at the protein level comprising altered posttranslational modifications and protein–protein interactions. Ultimately, defining and understanding the mechanisms responsible for NRF2 activation in cancer may lead to novel targets for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)889-898
Number of pages10
JournalCancer research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


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