A ruthenium(II)-curcumin compound modulates NRF2 expression balancing the cancer cell death/survival outcome according to p53 status

Alessia Garufi, Alessia Garufi, Silvia Baldari, Silvia Baldari, Riccardo Pettinari, Maria Saveria Gilardini Montani, Valerio D'orazi, Giuseppa Pistritto, Alessandra Crispini, Eugenia Giorno, Gabriele Toietta, Fabio Marchetti, Mara Cirone, Gabriella D'orazi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Tumor progression and tumor response to anticancer therapies may be affected by activation of oncogenic pathways such as the antioxidant one induced by NRF2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2) transcription factor and the pathways modified by deregulation of oncosuppressor p53. Often, oncogenic pathways may crosstalk between them increasing tumor progression and resistance to anticancer therapies. Therefore, understanding that interplay is critical to improve cancer cell response to therapies. In this study we aimed at evaluating NRF2 and p53 in several cancer cell lines carrying different endogenous p53 status, using a novel curcumin compound since curcumin has been shown to target both NRF2 and p53 and have anti-tumor activity. Methods: We performed biochemical and molecular studies by using pharmacologic of genetic inhibition of NRF2 to evaluate the effect of curcumin compound in cancer cell lines of different tumor types bearing wild-type (wt) p53, mutant (mut) p53 or p53 null status. Results: We found that the curcumin compound induced a certain degree of cell death in all tested cancer cell lines, independently of the p53 status. At molecular level, the curcumin compound induced NRF2 activation, mutp53 degradation and/or wtp53 activation. Pharmacologic or genetic NRF2 inhibition further increased the curcumin-induced cell death in both mutp53- and wtp53-carrying cancer cell lines while it did not increase cell death in p53 null cells, suggesting a cytoprotective role for NRF2 and a critical role for functional p53 to achieve an efficient cancer cell response to therapy. Conclusions: These findings underline the prosurvival role of curcumin-induced NRF2 expression in cancer cells even when cells underwent mutp53 downregulation and/or wtp53 activation. Thus, NRF2 inhibition increased cell demise particularly in cancer cells carrying p53 either wild-type or mutant suggesting that p53 is crucial for efficient cancer cell death. These results may represent a paradigm for better understanding the cancer cell response to therapies in order to design more efficient combined anticancer therapies targeting both NRF2 and p53.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 30 2020


  • (arene)ruthenium(II) compound
  • Autophagy
  • Brusatol
  • Cancer therapy
  • Chemoresistance
  • Curcumin
  • NRF2
  • Oxidative stress
  • p53

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'A ruthenium(II)-curcumin compound modulates NRF2 expression balancing the cancer cell death/survival outcome according to p53 status'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this