Leinonen HM, Ruotsalainen AK, Määttä AM, Laitinen HM, Kuosmanen SM, Kansanen E, Pikkarainen JT, Lappalainen JP, Samaranayake H, Lesch HP, Kaikkonen MU, Ylä-Herttuala S, Levonen AL
NRF2 is a transcription factor that regulates protection against a wide variety of toxic insults to cells, including cytotoxic cancer chemotherapeutic drugs. Many lung cancer cells harbor a mutation in either NRF2 or its inhibitor KEAP1 resulting in permanent activation of NRF2 and chemoresistance. In this study, we sought to examine whether this attribute could be exploited in cancer suicide gene therapy by using a lentiviral (LV) vector expressing herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK/GCV) under the regulation of antioxidant response element (ARE), a cis-acting enhancer sequence that binds NRF2. In human lung adenocarcinoma cells where NRF2 is constitutively overexpressed, ARE activity was found to be high under basal conditions. In this setting, ARE-HSV-TK was more effective than a vector in which HSV-TK expression was driven by a constitutively active promoter. In a mouse xenograft model of lung cancer, suicide gene therapy with LV-ARE-TK/GCV was effective compared to LV-PGK-TK/GCV in reducing tumor size. We conclude that ARE-regulated HSV-TK/GCV therapy offers a promising approach for suicide cancer gene therapy in cells with high constitutive ARE activity, permitting a greater degree of therapeutic targeting to those cells.