Lynch syndrome (LS) is the most prevalent heritable form of colorectal cancer (CRC). Its early onset and high lifetime risk for CRC emphasize the necessity for effective chemoprevention. NFE2L2 (NRF2) is often considered a potential druggable target, and many chemopreventive compounds do induce NRF2. However, while NRF2 counteracts oxidative stress, it is also overexpressed in CRC and may promote tumorigenesis. Herein, we evaluated the role of NRF2 in prevention of LS-associated neoplasia. We found an increased levels of NRF2 in intestinal epithelia of mice with intestinal epithelial-specific Msh2 deletion (MSH2ΔIEC) as compared to C57BL/6 (wild type) mice, as well as an increase in downstream NRF2 targets Nqo1 and Gclc. Likewise, NRF2 levels were increased in human MSH2-deficient LS tumors compared to healthy controls. In silico analysis of a publicly accessible RNA-sequencing LS dataset also found an increase in downstream NRF2 targets. Upon crossing MSH2ΔIEC with Nrf2null mice (MSH2ΔIECNrf2null), we unexpectedly found reduced tumorigenesis in MSH2ΔIECNrf2null compared to MSH2ΔIEC after 40 weeks. This occurred despite an increase in oxidative damage in MSH2ΔIECNrf2null mice. Loss of NRF2 impaired proliferation as seen by Ki67 intestinal staining and in organoid cultures. This was accompanied by diminished WNT/β-catenin signaling. Apoptosis was unaffected. Microbial alpha-diversity increased over time with loss of NRF2 based upon 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing of murine fecal samples. Altogether, we show that NRF2 protein levels are increased in MSH2-deficiency and associated neoplasia, but loss of NRF2 attenuates tumorigenesis. Activation of NRF2 may not be a feasible strategy for chemoprevention in LS.

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