The physiological roles of the NRF2-related transcription factor NRF3 (NFE2L3) have remained unknown for decades. The remarkable development of human cancer genome databases has led to strong suggestions that NRF3 has functional significance in cancer; specifically, high NRF3
mRNA levels are induced in many cancer types, such as colorectal cancer and pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and are associated with poor prognosis. On the basis of this information, the involvement of NRF3 in tumorigenesis and cancer malignancy has been recently proposed. NRF3 confers cancer cells with selective growth advantages by enhancing 20S proteasome assembly through induction of the chaperone gene proteasome maturation protein (POMP
) and consequently promoting degradation of the tumor suppressors p53 and retinoblastoma (Rb) in a ubiquitin-independent manner. This new finding offers insight into the proteasomal but not the genetic inactivation mechanism of tumor suppressors. Moreover, NRF3 promotes cancer malignancy-related processes, including metastasis and angiogenesis. Finally, the molecular mechanisms underlying NRF3 activation have been elucidated, and this knowledge is expected to provide many insights that are useful for the development of anticancer drugs that attenuate NRF3 transcriptional activity. Collectively, the evidence indicates that NRF3 confers cells with six so-called “hallmarks of cancer”, implying that it exhibits cancer driver gene-like function. This review describes recent research advances regarding the newly discovered addiction of cancer cells to NRF3 compared to NRF2.
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