NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) has been identified as a master regulatory factor in the protection of cells from oxidative and electrophilic stress. However, overexpression of Nrf2 in lung cancer may cause chemoresistance, as well as radioresistance. In this study, we examined the relationship between radioresistance and Nrf2 protein levels in H1299, A549, and H460 cells, and finally chose the A549 cell line to continue with due to its strong radioresistance and high Nrf2 protein levels. We found that the Nrf2 inhibitor, brusatol, could prevent the increase and accumulation of Nrf2 after exposure to irradiation. Additionally, following treatment with 80 nM brusatol, A549 cells became sensitive to irradiation, suffering severe DNA damage. Combination treatment with brusatol and ionizing radiation (IR) can distinctly increase the level of reactive oxygen species in A549 cells, causing a 1.8-fold increase compared with the control, and a 1.4-fold increase compared with IR alone. In fact, in the treatment with both brusatol and IR, lung cancer cell proliferation is halted, gradually leading to cell death. Because Nrf2 is closely linked to DNA damage repair, inhibiting the function of Nrf2, as in brusatol treatment, may increase the DNA damage caused by radiotherapy or chemotherapy, possibly enhancing the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs. Our study is the first to demonstrate brusatol’s ability to enhance the responsiveness of lung cancer cells to irradiation, and its potential application as a natural sensitizer in radiotherapy.
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