Nrf2 activation protects against solar-simulated ultraviolet radiation in mice and humans

Elena V. Knatko, Sally H. Ibbotson, Ying Zhang, Maureen Higgins, Jed W. Fahey, Paul Talalay, Robert S. Dawe, James Ferguson, Jeffrey T.-J. Huang, Rosemary Clarke, Suqing Zheng, Akira Saito, Sukirti Kalra, Andrea L. Benedict, Tadashi Honda, Charlotte M. Proby, Albena T. Dinkova-Kostova (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


The transcription factor Nrf2 determines the ability to adapt and survive under conditions of electrophilic, oxidative and inflammatory stress by regulating the expression of elaborate networks comprising nearly 500 genes encoding proteins with versatile cytoprotective functions. In mice, disruption of Nrf2 increases susceptibility to carcinogens and accelerates disease pathogenesis. Paradoxically, Nrf2 is upregulated in established human tumors, but whether this upregulation drives carcinogenesis is not known. Here we show that the incidence, multiplicity and burden of solar-simulated UV radiation-mediated cutaneous tumors that form in SKH-1 hairless mice in which Nrf2 is genetically constitutively activated, are lower than those that arise in their wild-type counterparts. Pharmacological Nrf2 activation by topical bi-weekly applications of small (40 nmol) quantities of the potent bis(cyano enone) inducer TBE-31 has a similar protective effect against solar-simulated UV radiation in animals receiving long-term treatment with the immunosuppressive agent azathioprine. Genetic or pharmacological Nrf2 activation lowers the expression of the pro-inflammatory factors interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-1β, and cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 after acute exposure of mice to UV radiation. In healthy human subjects, topical applications of extracts delivering the Nrf2 activator sulforaphane, reduced the degree of solar-simulated UV radiation-induced skin erythema, a quantifiable surrogate end-point for cutaneous damage and skin cancer risk. Collectively, these data show that Nrf2 is not a driver for tumorigenesis even upon exposure to a very potent and complete carcinogen, and strongly suggest that the frequent activation of Nrf2 in established human tumors is a marker of metabolic adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-486
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Prevention Research
Issue number6
Early online date24 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


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