ARTICLE ABSTRACTMutations in the KEAP1–NRF2 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1–nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2) pathway occur in up to a third of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cases and often confer resistance to therapy and poor outcomes. Here, we developed murine alleles of the KEAP1 and NRF2 mutations found in human NSCLC and comprehensively interrogated their impact on tumor initiation and progression. Chronic NRF2 stabilization by Keap1 or Nrf2 mutation was not sufficient to induce tumorigenesis, even in the absence of tumor suppressors, p53 or LKB1. When combined with KrasG12D/+, constitutive NRF2 activation promoted lung tumor initiation and early progression of hyperplasia to low-grade tumors but impaired their progression to advanced-grade tumors, which was reversed by NRF2 deletion. Finally, NRF2 overexpression in KEAP1 mutant human NSCLC cell lines was detrimental to cell proliferation, viability, and anchorage-independent colony formation. Collectively, these results establish the context-dependence and activity threshold for NRF2 during the lung tumorigenic process.
Stabilization of the transcription factor NRF2 promotes oncogene-driven tumor initiation but blocks tumor progression, indicating distinct, threshold-dependent effects of the KEAP1/NRF2 pathway in different stages of lung tumorigenesis.