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J Photochem Photobiol B. 2019 Oct 28;202:111672. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2019.111672. [Epub ahead of print]

The ROS-KRAS-Nrf2 axis in the control of the redox homeostasis and the intersection with survival-apoptosis pathways: Implications for photodynamic therapy.

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Department of Medicine, Laboratory of Biochemistry, University of Udine, P.le Kolbe 4, 33100 Udine, Italy.
Department of Medicine, Laboratory of Biochemistry, University of Udine, P.le Kolbe 4, 33100 Udine, Italy. Electronic address:


In highly proliferating cancer cells oncogenic mutations reprogram the metabolism and increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Cancer cells prevent ROS accumulation by upregulating antioxidant systems. Here we show that an increase of oxidative stress (ROS and singlet oxygen), generated by photoactivated TMPyP4, results in the upregulation of KRAS and Nrf2, the major regulator of the redox homeostasis. In agreement with a previous observation, the ectopic expression of KRAS G12D or G12 V is found to stimulate Nrf2. This suggests that ROS, KRAS and Nrf2 establish a molecular axis controlling the redox homeostasis in cancer cells. We found that this axis also modulates the function of the NF-kB/Snail/RKIP circuitry, regulating the survival and apoptosis pathways. Our data show that low ROS levels, obtained when Nrf2 is activated by KRAS, results in the upregulation of prosurvival Snail and simultaneous downregulation of proapoptotic RKIP: an expression pattern favouring cell proliferation. By contrast, high ROS levels, obtained when Nrf2 is inhibited by a small molecule (luteolin), favour apoptosis by upregulating proapoptotic RKIP and downregulating prosurvival Snail. The results of this study are useful to design efficient photodynamic therapy (PDT) against cancer. We hypothesize that cancer cells can be sensitized to PDT when the photosensitizer is used in the presence of an inhibitor of Nrf2 (adjuvant). To test this hypothesis, we used luteolin (3',4',5,7-tetrahydroflavone) as Nrf2 inhibitor, since it reduces the expression of Nrf2 and increases intracellular ROS. By means of colony formation and viability assays we found that when Nrf2 is inhibited, PDT shows an increase of efficiency up to 45%.


8-oxoguanine; KRAS; Luteolin; NFkB-Snail-RKIP; Nrf2; PARP-1; PDT; ROS

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