Cancer cells exhibit unique metabolic features and take advantage of them to enhance their survival and proliferation. While the activation of NRF2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-like 2; NFE2L2), a CNC (cap‘n’collar) family transcription factor, is effective for the prevention and alleviation of various diseases, NRF2 contributes to cancer malignancy by promoting aggressive tumorigenesis and conferring therapeutic resistance. NRF2-mediated metabolic reprogramming and increased antioxidant capacity underlie the malignant behaviors of NRF2-activated cancer cells. Another member of the CNC family, NRF1, plays a key role in the therapeutic resistance of cancers. Since NRF1 maintains proteasome activity by inducing proteasome subunit genes in response to proteasome inhibitors, NRF1 protects cancer cells from proteotoxicity induced by anticancer proteasome inhibitors. An important metabolite that activates NRF1 is UDP-GlcNAc (uridine diphosphate N-acetylglucosamine), which is abundantly generated in many cancer cells from glucose and glutamine via the hexosamine pathway. Thus, the metabolic signatures of cancer cells are closely related to the oncogenic and tumor-promoting functions of CNC family members. In this review, we provide a brief overview of NRF2-mediated cancer malignancy and elaborate on NRF1-mediated drug resistance affected by an oncometabolite UDP-GlcNAc.
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