NRF2: KEAPing Tumors Protected
The Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1)/nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) pathway plays a physiologic protective role against xenobiotics and reactive oxygen species. However, activation of NRF2 provides a powerful selective advantage for tumors by rewiring metabolism to enhance proliferation, suppress various forms of stress, and promote immune evasion. Genetic, epigenetic, and posttranslational alterations that activate the KEAP1/NRF2 pathway are found in multiple solid tumors. Emerging clinical data highlight that alterations in this pathway result in resistance to multiple therapies. Here, we provide an overview of how dysregulation of the KEAP1/NRF2 pathway in cancer contributes to several hallmarks of cancer that promote tumorigenesis and lead to treatment resistance. SIGNIFICANCE: Alterations in the KEAP1/NRF2 pathway are found in multiple cancer types. Activation of NRF2 leads to metabolic rewiring of tumors that promote tumor initiation and progression. Here we present the known alterations that lead to NRF2 activation in cancer, the mechanisms in which NRF2 activation promotes tumors, and the therapeutic implications of NRF2 activation.
Nrf2 Activation Promotes Lung Cancer Metastasis by Inhibiting the Degradation of Bach1
Approximately 30% of human lung cancers acquire mutations in either Keap1 or Nfe2l2, resulting in the stabilization of Nrf2, the Nfe2l2 gene product, which controls oxidative homeostasis. Here, we show that heme triggers the degradation of Bach1, a pro-metastatic transcription factor, by promoting its interaction with the ubiquitin ligase Fbxo22. Nrf2 accumulation in lung cancers causes the stabilization of Bach1 by inducing Ho1, the enzyme catabolizing heme. In mouse models of lung cancers, loss of Keap1 or Fbxo22 induces metastasis in a Bach1-dependent manner. Pharmacological inhibition of Ho1 suppresses metastasis in a Fbxo22-dependent manner. Human metastatic lung cancer display high levels of Ho1 and Bach1. Bach1 transcriptional signature is associated with poor survival and metastasis in lung cancer patients. We propose that Nrf2 activates a metastatic program by inhibiting the heme- and Fbxo22-mediated degradation of Bach1, and that Ho1 inhibitors represent an effective therapeutic strategy to prevent lung cancer metastasis.
Activation of Oxidative Stress Response in Cancer Generates a Druggable Dependency on Exogenous Non-essential Amino Acids
Rewiring of metabolic pathways is a hallmark of tumorigenesis as cancer cells acquire novel nutrient dependencies to support oncogenic growth. A majorÂ genetic subtype of lung adenocarcinoma with KEAP1/NRF2 mutations, which activates the endogenous oxidative stress response, undergoes significant metabolic rewiring to support enhanced antioxidant production. We demonstrate that cancers with high antioxidant capacity exhibit a general dependency on exogenous non-essential amino acids (NEAAs) that is driven by the Nrf2-dependent secretion of glutamate through system xc- (XCT), which limits intracellular glutamate pools that are required for NEAA synthesis. This dependency can be therapeutically targeted by dietary restriction or enzymatic depletion of individual NEAAs. Importantly, limiting endogenous glutamate levels by glutaminase inhibition can sensitize tumors without alterations in the Keap1/Nrf2 pathway to dietary restriction of NEAAs. Our findings identify a metabolic strategy to therapeutically target cancers with genetic or pharmacologic activation of the Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway by restricting exogenous sources of NEAAs.
The Pleiotropic Role of the KEAP1/NRF2 Pathway in Cancer
The unregulated proliferative capacity of many tumors is dependent on dysfunctional nutrient utilization and ROS (reactive oxygen species) signaling to sustain a deranged metabolic state. Although it is clear that cancers broadly rely on these survival and signaling pathways, how they achieve these aims varies dramatically. Mutations in the KEAP1/NRF2 pathway represent a potent cancer adaptation to exploit native cytoprotective pathways that involve both nutrient metabolism and ROS regulation. Despite activating these advantageous processes, mutations within KEAP1/NRF2 are not universally selected for across cancers and instead appear to interact with particular tumor driver mutations and tissues of origin. Here, we highlight the relationship between the KEAP1/NRF2 signaling axis and tumor biology with a focus on genetic mutation, metabolism, immune regulation, and treatment implications and opportunities. Understanding the dysregulation of KEAP1 and NRF2 provides not only insight into a commonly mutated tumor suppressor pathway but also a window into the factors dictating the development and evolution of many cancers.
Activation of the NRF2 antioxidant program sensitizes tumors to G6PD inhibition
[Figure: see text].
Loss of Keap1 promotes KRAS-driven lung cancer and results in genotype-specific vulnerabilities. [Meeting Abstract]
Keap1 loss promotes Kras-driven lung cancer and results in dependence on glutaminolysis
Treating KRAS-mutant lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD) remains a major challenge in cancer treatment given the difficulties associated with directly inhibiting the KRAS oncoprotein. One approach to addressing this challenge is to define mutations that frequently co-occur with those in KRAS, which themselves may lead to therapeutic vulnerabilities in tumors. Approximately 20% of KRAS-mutant LUAD tumors carry loss-of-function mutations in the KEAP1 gene encoding Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (refs. 2, 3, 4), a negative regulator of nuclear factor erythroid 2-like 2 (NFE2L2; hereafter NRF2), which is the master transcriptional regulator of the endogenous antioxidant response. The high frequency of mutations in KEAP1 suggests an important role for the oxidative stress response in lung tumorigenesis. Using a CRISPR-Cas9-based approach in a mouse model of KRAS-driven LUAD, we examined the effects of Keap1 loss in lung cancer progression. We show that loss of Keap1 hyperactivates NRF2 and promotes KRAS-driven LUAD in mice. Through a combination of CRISPR-Cas9-based genetic screening and metabolomic analyses, we show that Keap1- or Nrf2-mutant cancers are dependent on increased glutaminolysis, and this property can be therapeutically exploited through the pharmacological inhibition of glutaminase. Finally, we provide a rationale for stratification of human patients with lung cancer harboring KRAS/KEAP1- or KRAS/NRF2-mutant lung tumors as likely to respond to glutaminase inhibition.
Lung Adenocarcinoma Distally Rewires Hepatic Circadian Homeostasis
The circadian clock controls metabolic and physiological processes through finely tuned molecular mechanisms. The clock is remarkably plastic and adapts to exogenous "zeitgebers," such as light and nutrition. How a pathological condition in a given tissue influences systemic circadian homeostasis in other tissues remains an unanswered question of conceptual and biomedical importance. Here, we show that lung adenocarcinoma operates as an endogenous reorganizer of circadian metabolism. High-throughput transcriptomics and metabolomics revealed unique signatures of transcripts and metabolites cycling exclusively in livers of tumor-bearing mice. Remarkably, lung cancer has no effect on the core clock but rather reprograms hepatic metabolism through altered pro-inflammatory response via the STAT3-Socs3 pathway. This results in disruption of AKT, AMPK, and SREBP signaling, leading to altered insulin, glucose, and lipid metabolism. Thus, lung adenocarcinoma functions as a potent endogenous circadian organizer (ECO), which rewires the pathophysiological dimension of a distal tissue such as the liver. PAPERCLIP.
PhosphoDisco: a toolkit for co-regulated phosphorylation module discovery in phosphoproteomic data
Kinases are key players in cancer-relevant pathways and are the targets of many successful precision cancer therapies (1, 2). Phosphoproteomics is a powerful approach to study kinase activity and has been used increasingly for the characterization of tumor samples leading to the identification of novel chemotherapeutic targets and biomarkers (3-10). Finding co-regulated phosphorylation sites which represent potential kinase-substrate sets or members of the same signaling pathway allows us to harness this data to identify clinically relevant and targetable alterations in signaling cascades. Unfortunately, studies have found that databases of co-regulated phosphorylation sites (11, 12) are only experimentally supported in a small number of substrate sets (13, 14). To address the inherent challenge of defining co-regulated phosphorylation modules relevant to a given dataset, we developed PhosphoDisco, a toolkit for determining co-regulated phosphorylation modules. We applied this approach to tandem mass spectrometry based phosphoproteomic data for breast and non-small cell lung cancer and identified canonical as well as putative new phosphorylation site modules. Our analysis identified several interesting modules in each cohort. Among these was a new cell cycle checkpoint module enriched in basal breast cancer samples and a module of PRKC isozymes putatively co-regulated by CDK12 in lung cancer. We demonstrate that modules defined by PhosphoDisco can be used to further personalized cancer treatment strategies by establishing active signaling pathways in a given patient tumor or set of tumors, and in providing new ways to classify tumors based on signaling activity.
SOX9 drives KRAS-induced lung adenocarcinoma progression and suppresses anti-tumor immunity
The SOX9 transcription factor ensures proper tissue development and homeostasis and has been implicated in promoting tumor progression. However, the role of SOX9 as a driver of lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD), or any cancer, remains unclear. Using CRISPR/Cas9 and Cre-LoxP gene knockout approaches in the KrasG12D-driven mouse LUAD model, we found that loss of Sox9 significantly reduces lung tumor development, burden and progression, contributing to significantly longer overall survival. SOX9 consistently drove organoid growth in vitro, but SOX9-promoted tumor growth was significantly attenuated in immunocompromised mice compared to syngeneic mice. We demonstrate that SOX9 suppresses immune cell infiltration and functionally suppresses tumor associated CD8+ T, natural killer and dendritic cells. These data were validated by flow cytometry, gene expression, RT-qPCR, and immunohistochemistry analyses in KrasG12D-driven murine LUAD, then confirmed by interrogating bulk and single-cell gene expression repertoires and immunohistochemistry in human LUAD. Notably, SOX9 significantly elevates collagen-related gene expression and substantially increases collagen fibers. We propose that SOX9 increases tumor stiffness and inhibits tumor-infiltrating dendritic cells, thereby suppressing CD8+ T cell and NK cell infiltration and activity. Thus, SOX9 drives KrasG12D-driven lung tumor progression and inhibits anti-tumor immunity at least partly by modulating the tumor microenvironment.