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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Jun 5;1653(1):25-40.

Raf proteins and cancer: B-Raf is identified as a mutational target.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Leicester, University Road, LE1 7RH, Leicester, UK.


A recent report has shown that activating mutations in the BRAF gene are present in a large percentage of human malignant melanomas and in a proportion of colon cancers. The vast majority of these mutations represent a single nucleotide change of T-A at nucleotide 1796 resulting in a valine to glutamic acid change at residue 599 within the activation segment of B-Raf. This exciting new discovery is the first time that a direct association between any RAF gene and human cancer has been reported. Raf proteins are also indirectly associated with cancer as effectors of activated Ras proteins, oncogenic forms of which are present in approximately one-third of all human cancers. BRAF and RAS mutations are rarely both present in the same cancers but the cancer types with BRAF mutations are similar to those with RAS mutations. This has been taken as evidence that the inappropriate regulation of the downstream ERKs (the p42/p44 MAP kinases) is a major contributing factor in the development of these cancers. Recent studies in mice with targeted mutations of the raf genes have confirmed that B-Raf is a far stronger activator of ERKs than its better studied Raf-1 homologue, even in cell types in which the protein is barely expressed. The explanation for this lies in a number of key differences in the regulation of B-Raf and Raf-1 activity. Constitutive phosphorylation of serine 445 of B-Raf leads to this protein having a higher basal kinase activity than Raf-1. Phosphorylation of threonine 598 and serine 601 within the activation loop of B-Raf at the plasma membrane also regulates its activity. The V599E mutation is thought to mimic these phosphorylations, resulting in a protein with high activity, leading to constitutive ERK activation. B-Raf now provides a critical new target to which drugs for treating malignant melanoma can be developed and, with this in mind, it is now important to gain clear insight into the biochemical properties of this relatively little characterised protein.

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