Epithelial mesenchymal transition is a common mechanism leading to metastatic dissemination and cancer progression. In an effort to better understand this process we found an intersection of Nrf2/NLE2F2 (Nrf2), epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), and metabolic alterations using multiple in vitro and in vivo approaches. Nrf2 is a key transcription factor controlling the expression of redox regulators to establish cellular redox homeostasis. Nrf2 has been shown to exert both cancer inhibitory and stimulatory activities. Using multiple isogenic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines, we observed a reduction of Nrf2 protein and activity in a prometastatic mesenchymal cell state and increased reactive oxygen species. Knockdown of Nrf2 promoted a mesenchymal phenotype and reduced glycolytic, TCA cycle and lipogenic output from both glucose and glutamine in the isogenic cell models; while overexpression of Nrf2 promoted a more epithelial phenotype and metabolic reactivation. In both Nrf2 knockout mice and in NSCLC patient samples, Nrf2low
was co-correlated with markedly decreased expression of glycolytic, lipogenic, and mesenchymal RNAs. Conversely, Nrf2high
was associated with partial mesenchymal epithelial transition and increased expression of metabolic RNAs. The impact of Nrf2 on epithelial and mesenchymal cancer cell states and metabolic output provide an additional context to Nrf2 function in cancer initiation and progression, with implications for therapeutic inhibition of Nrf2 in cancer treatment.
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