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Cancer Res. 2003 Feb 15;63(4):756-9.

Constitutive mitogen-activated protein kinase activation in melanoma is mediated by both BRAF mutations and autocrine growth factor stimulation.

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  • 1Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


Dysregulated activation of Ras or its downstream effectors such as mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase and ERK has been shown to play a critical role in tumorigenesis of many cancer types. However, in melanoma, activating mutations in Ras are rarely observed and are limited to N-Ras in UV-exposed cells. In this study, we identify constitutively activated ERK in almost all melanoma cell lines and in tumor tissues tested, which is in contrast to normal melanocytes and several early stage radial growth phase melanoma lines where ERK can be activated by serum or growth factors. Constitutive activation of ERK is preceded by phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase and c-RAF. In all of the melanoma cell lines tested, Ras is constitutively activated without underlying mutations. On the contrary, activating mutations in the kinase domain of BRAF are present in the majority of the cell lines tested. Furthermore, ERK activation can be partially inhibited from the cell surface using inhibitors of fibroblast growth factor and hepatocyte growth factor but not interleukin 8 signaling pathways. These data suggest that melanoma growth, invasion, and metastasis are attributable to constitutively activated ERK apparently mediated by excessive growth factors through autocrine mechanisms and BRAF kinase activation.

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