The Paradoxical Roles of Orphan Nuclear Receptor 4A (NR4A) in Cancer. Academic Article uri icon


  • The three-orphan nuclear receptor 4A genes are induced by diverse stressors and stimuli, and there is increasing evidence that NR4A1 (Nur77), NR4A2 (Nurr1), and NR4A3 (Nor1) play an important role in maintaining cellular homeostasis and in pathophysiology. In blood-derived tumors (leukemias and lymphomas), NR4A expression is low and NR4A1-/-/NR4A3-/- double knockout mice rapidly develop acute myelocytic leukemia, suggesting that these receptors exhibit tumor suppressor activity. Treatment of leukemia and most lymphoma cells with drugs that induce expression of NR4A1and NR4A3 enhances apoptosis, and this represents a potential clinical application for treating this disease. In contrast, most solid tumor-derived cell lines express high levels of NR4A1 and NR4A2, and both receptors exhibit pro-oncogenic activities in solid tumors, whereas NR4A3 exhibits tumor-specific activities. Initial studies with retinoids and apoptosis-inducing agents demonstrated that their cytotoxic activity is NR4A1 dependent and involved drug-induced nuclear export of NR4A1 and formation of a mitochondrial proapoptotic NR4A1-bcl-2 complex. Drug-induced nuclear export of NR4A1 has been reported for many agents/biologics and involves interactions with multiple mitochondrial and extramitochondrial factors to induce apoptosis. Synthetic ligands for NR4A1, NR4A2, and NR4A3 have been identified, and among these compounds, bis-indole derived (CDIM) NR4A1 ligands primarily act on nuclear NR4A1 to inhibit NR4A1-regulated pro-oncogenic pathways/genes and similar results have been observed for CDIMs that bind NR4A2. Based on results of laboratory animal studies development of NR4A inducers (blood-derived cancers) and NR4A1/NR4A2 antagonists (solid tumors) may be promising for cancer therapy and also for enhancing immune surveillance.

published proceedings

  • Mol Cancer Res

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Safe, S., & Karki, K.

citation count

  • 38

complete list of authors

  • Safe, Stephen||Karki, Keshav

publication date

  • February 2021