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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 17;6(2):e16871. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016871.

Functional characterization of human cancer-derived TRKB mutations.

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  • 1Division of Molecular Genetics, Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Cancer originates from cells that have acquired mutations in genes critical for controlling cell proliferation, survival and differentiation. Often, tumors continue to depend on these so-called driver mutations, providing the rationale for targeted anticancer therapies. To date, large-scale sequencing analyses have revealed hundreds of mutations in human tumors. However, without their functional validation it remains unclear which mutations correspond to driver, or rather bystander, mutations and, therefore, whether the mutated gene represents a target for therapeutic intervention. In human colorectal tumors, the neurotrophic receptor TRKB has been found mutated on two different sites in its kinase domain (TRKB(T695I) and TRKB(D751N)). Another site, in the extracellular part of TRKB, is mutated in a human lung adenocarcinoma cell line (TRKB(L138F)). Lastly, our own analysis has identified one additional TRKB point mutation proximal to the kinase domain (TRKB(P507L)) in a human melanoma cell line. The functional consequences of all these point mutations, however, have so far remained elusive. Previously, we have shown that TRKB is a potent suppressor of anoikis and that TRKB-expressing cells form highly invasive and metastatic tumors in nude mice. To assess the functional consequences of these four TRKB mutations, we determined their potential to suppress anoikis and to form tumors in nude mice. Unexpectedly, both colon cancer-derived mutants, TRKB(T695I) and TRKB(D751N), displayed reduced activity compared to that of wild-type TRKB. Consistently, upon stimulation with the TRKB ligand BDNF, these mutants were impaired in activating TRKB and its downstream effectors AKT and ERK. The two mutants derived from human tumor cell lines (TRKB(L138F) and TRKB(P507L)) were functionally indistinguishable from wild-type TRKB in both in-vitro and in-vivo assays. In conclusion, we fail to detect any gain-of-function of four cancer-derived TRKB point mutations.

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