Dysregulation of SOX17/NRF2 axis confers chemoradiotherapy resistance and emerges as a novel therapeutic target in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma

Chih Hsiung Hsieh, Wen Hui Kuan, Wei Lun Chang, I. Ying Kuo, Hsun Liu, Dar Bin Shieh, Hsuan Liu, Bertrand Tan, Yi Ching Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is the sixth leading cause of cancer-associated death worldwide with a dismal overall 5-year survival rate of less than 20%. The standard first-line therapy for advanced ESCC is concomitant chemo-radiation therapy (CCRT); however, patients usually develop resistance, resulting in unfavorable outcomes. Therefore, it is urgent to identify the mechanisms underlying CCRT resistance and develop effective treatment strategies. Methods: Patients’ endoscopic biopsy tumor tissues obtained before CCRT treatment were used to perform RNA-seq and GSEA analysis. Immunohistochemical (IHC) staining, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), and promoter reporter analyses were conducted to investigate the relationship between SOX17 and NRF2. Xenograft mouse models were used to study the role of SOX17/NRF2 axis in tumor growth and the efficacy of carboxymethyl cellulose-coated zero-valent-iron (ZVI@CMC). Results: In this study, a notable gene expression signature associated with NRF2 activation was observed in the poor CCRT responders. Further, IHC staining of endoscopic biopsy of 164 ESCC patients revealed an inverse correlation between NRF2 and SOX17, a tumor-suppressive transcription factor with low expression in ESCC due to promoter hypermethylation. Using ChIP and promoter reporter analyses, we demonstrated that SOX17 was a novel upstream transcriptional suppressor of NRF2. In particular, SOX17low/NRF2high nuclear level significantly correlated with poor CCRT response and poor survival, indicating that the dysregulation of SOX17/NRF2 axis played a pivotal role in CCRT resistance and tumor progression. Notably, the in-house developed nanoparticle ZVI@CMC functioned as an inhibitor of DNA methyltransferases to restore expression of SOX17 that downregulated NRF2, thereby overcoming the resistance in ESCC. Additionally, the combination of ZVI@CMC with radiation treatment significantly augmented anticancer efficacy to inhibit tumor growth in CCRT resistant cancer. Conclusion: This study identifies a novel SOX17low/NRF2high signature in ESCC patients with poor prognosis, recognizes SOX17 as a transcriptional repressor of NRF2, and provides a promising strategy targeting SOX17/NRF2 axis to overcome resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number90
JournalJournal of biomedical science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Dysregulation of SOX17/NRF2 axis confers chemoradiotherapy resistance and emerges as a novel therapeutic target in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this