The transcription factor NRF2 (NFE2L2), regulates important antioxidant and cytoprotective genes. It enhances cancer cell proliferation and promotes chemoresistance in several cancers. Dimethyl fumarate (DMF) is known to promote NRF2 activity in non-cancer models. We combined in vitro and in vivo methods to examine the effect of DMF on cancer cell death and the activation of the NRF2 antioxidant pathway. We demonstrated that at lower concentrations (< 25 μM), DMF has a cytoprotective role through activation of the NRF2 antioxidant pathway. At higher concentrations, however (> 25 μM), DMF caused oxidative stress and subsequently cytotoxicity in several cancer cell lines. High DMF concentration decreases nuclear translocation of NRF2 and production of its downstream targets. The pro-oxidative and cytotoxic effects of high concentration of DMF were abrogated by over-expression of NRF2 in OVCAR3 cells, suggesting that DMF cytotoxicity is dependent of NRF2 depletion. High concentrations of DMF decreased the expression of DJ-1, a NRF2 protein stabiliser. Using DJ-1 siRNA and expression vector, we observed that the expression level of DJ-1 controls NRF2 activation, antoxidant defences and cell death in OVCAR3 cells. Finally, antitumoral effect of daily DMF (20 mg/kg) was also observed in vivo in two mice models of colon cancer. Taken together, these findings implicate the effect of DJ-1 on NRF2 in cancer development and identify DMF as a dose dependant modulator of both NRF2 and DJ-1, which may be useful in exploiting the therapeutic potential of these endogenous antioxidants.
- Received June 22, 2016.
- Revision received December 7, 2016.
- Accepted December 7, 2016.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.