Pharmacological activation of the transcription factor nuclear factor-erythroid derived 2-like 2 (NRF2), the key regulator of the cellular antioxidant response, has been recognized as a feasible strategy to reduce oxidative/electrophilic stress and prevent carcinogenesis or other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease. In contrast, due to the discovery of the “dark side” of NRF2, where prolonged activation of NRF2 causes tissue damage, cancer progression, or chemoresistance, efforts have been devoted to identify inhibitors. Currently, only one NRF2 activator has been approved for use in the clinic, while no specific NRF2 inhibitors have been discovered. Future development of NRF2-targeted therapeutics should be based on our current understanding of the regulatory mechanisms of this protein. In addition to the KEAP1-dependent mechanisms, the recent discovery of other pathways involved in the degradation of NRF2 have opened up new possibilities for the development of safe and specific therapeutics. Here, we review available and putative NRF2-targeted therapeutics and discuss their modes of action as well as their potential for disease prevention and treatment.
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