Keap1 eye on the target: Chemoprevention of liver cancer

Melinda Sue Yates, Thomas Wells Kensler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common cancers worldwide, causing nearly 600 000 deaths each year. Increased risk of HCC due to chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and exposure to dietary aflatoxins is responsible for many of these deaths. Prevention strategies targeting HBV infection and aflatoxin exposure could dramatically impact the rates of HCC. Universal HBV vaccination programs have begun in some high-risk areas. Strategies to reduce aflatoxin contamination in food stores have also been implemented. However, complete elimination of aflatoxin contamination might not be possible. For this reason, chemoprevention strategies which alter aflatoxin disposition are a practical strategy to reduce the incidence of HCC in populations with high dietary aflatoxin exposure. The mechanisms of aflatoxin-induced hepatocarcinogenesis are well known. This knowledge provides the basis for evaluation of both exposures to aflatoxin, as well as modulation of aflatoxin disposition by chemopreventive agents. Products of aflatoxin DNA damage and toxicity as well as other metabolites can be used as biomarkers to evaluate modulation of aflatoxin disposition. Modulation of aflatoxin disposition can be achieved through induction of conjugating and cytoprotective enzymes. Many of these enzymes are regulated through Kelch ECH-associating protein 1 (Keap1)-NF-E2-related factor 2(Nrf2)-antioxidant response element (ARE) signaling, making this pathway an important molecular target for chemoprevention. Rodent studies have identified several classes of chemopreventive agents which induce cytoprotective genes. These inducers include phenolic antioxidants, dithiolethiones, isothiocyanates, and triterpenoids. Furthermore, clinical interventions have shown that inducers of Keap1-Nrf2-ARE signaling increase cytoprotective enzyme expression, resulting in modulation of aflatoxin disposition. Much work remains to be done in order to take promising chemopreventive agents from preclinical evaluation to application in at-risk populations. However, appropriately designed clinical trials will aid in this process, which can have profound impact on the incidence of HCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1331-1342
Number of pages12
JournalActa Pharmacologica Sinica
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2007


  • Chemoprevention
  • Dithiolethiones
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Kelch ECH associating protein 1
  • Nrf2
  • Oltipraz
  • Sulforaphane
  • Triterpenoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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