Resistance to anticancer agents has been an obstacle to developing therapeutics and reducing medical costs. Whereas sorafenib is used for the treatment of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), resistance limits its efficacy. p62, a multifunctional protein, is overexpressed in several HCC cell lines, such as Huh-1 cells. Phosphorylated p62 (p-p62) inhibits the protein–protein interaction (PPI) between Keap1 and Nrf2, resulting in the Nrf2 overactivation that causes drug resistance. We have found a unique Nrf2 inactivator, named K67, that inhibited the PPI between Keap1 and p-p62 and attenuated sorafenib resistance in Huh-1 cells. Herein, we designed and synthesised novel K67 derivatives by modification of the substituent at the 4-position of the two benzenesulfonyl groups of K67. Although these new derivatives inhibited the Keap1-p-p62 PPI to a level comparable to or weaker than that of K67, the isopropoxy derivative enhanced the sensitivity of Huh-1 cells to sorafenib to a greater extent than K67 without any influence on the viability of Huh-7 cells, which is a non-resistant HCC cell line. The isopropoxy derivative also increased the sensitivity of Huh-1 cells to regorafenib, which suggests that this derivative has the potential to be used as an agent to overcome chemoresistance based on Nrf2 inactivation.
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