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Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002.

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Biochemistry. 5th edition.

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Section 15.5Defects in Signaling Pathways Can Lead to Cancer and Other Diseases

In light of their complexity, it comes as no surprise that signal-transduction pathways occasionally fail, leading to pathological or disease states. Cancer, a set of diseases characterized by uncontrolled or inappropriate cell growth, is strongly associated with defects in signal-transduction proteins. Indeed, the study of cancer, particularly cancer caused by certain viruses, has contributed greatly to our understanding of signal-transduction proteins and pathways.

For example, Rous sarcoma virus is a retrovirus that causes sarcoma (a cancer of tissues of mesodermal origin such as muscle or connective tissue) in chickens. In addition to the genes necessary for viral replication, this virus carries a gene termed v-src. The v-src gene is an oncogene; it leads to the transformation of susceptible cell types. The protein encoded by v-src is a protein tyrosine kinase that includes SH2 and SH3 domains (Figure 15.35). Indeed, the names of these domains derive from the fact that they are Src homology domains. The v-Src protein is similar in amino acid sequence to a protein normally found in chicken muscle cells referred to as c-Src (for cellular Src). The c-src gene does not induce cell transformation and is termed a proto-oncogene. The protein that it encodes is a signal-transduction protein that regulates cell growth. As we shall see, small differences in the amino acid sequences between the proteins encoded by the proto-oncogene and the oncogene are responsible for the oncogene product being trapped in the “on” position.

Figure 15.35. Src Structure.

Figure 15.35

Src Structure. Image mouse.jpg (A) Cellular Src includes an SH3 domain, an SH2 domain, a protein kinase domain, and a carboxyl-terminal tail that includes a key tyrosine residue. (B) Structure of c-Src in an inactivated form with the key tyrosine residue phosphorylated. (more...)

An examination of the structure of c-Src in an inactive conformation reveals an intricate relation between the three major domains. The SH3 domain lies nearest the amino terminus, followed by the SH2 domain and then the kinase domain. There is also an extended carboxyl-terminal stretch that includes a phosphotyrosine residue. The phosphotyrosine residue is bound within the SH2 domain, whereas the linker between the SH2 domain and the kinase domain is bound by the SH3 domain. These interactions hold the kinase domain in an inactive conformation. The Src protein in this form can be activated by three distinct processes (Figure 15.36): (1) the phosphotyrosine residue bound in the SH2 pocket can be displaced by another phosphotyrosine-containing polypeptide with a higher affinity for this SH2 domain, (2) the phosphoryl group on the tyrosine residue can be removed by a phosphatase, and (3) the linker can be displaced from the SH3 domain by a polypeptide with a higher affinity for this SH3 domain. Thus, Src responds to the presence of one of a set of distinct signals. The amino acid sequence of the viral oncogene is more than 90% identical with its cellular counterpart. Why does it have such a different biological activity? The C-terminal 19 amino acids of c-Src are replaced by a completely different stretch of 11 amino acids, and this region lacks the key tyrosine residue that is phosphorylated in inactive c-Src. Since the discovery of Src, many other mutated protein kinases have been identified as oncogenes.

Figure 15.36. Activation Pathways for c-Src.

Figure 15.36

Activation Pathways for c-Src. Inactive c-Src can be activated by one of at least three distinct pathways: (1) displacement of the SH2 domain, (2) dephosphorylation, or (3) displacement of the SH3 domain.

Image tree.jpg How did the Rous sarcoma virus acquire the mutated version of src? In an infection, a viral genome may pick up a gene from its host in such a way that the region encoding the last few amino acids is missing. Such a modified gene may have given the Rous sarcoma virus a selective advantage because it will have favored viral growth when introduced with the virus into a host cell.

Impaired GTPase activity in a regulatory protein also can lead to cancer. Indeed, ras is one of the genes most commonly mutated in human tumors. Mammalian cells contain three 21-kd Ras proteins (H-, K-, and N-Ras) that cycle between GTP and GDP forms. The most common mutations in tumors lead to a loss of the ability to hydrolyze GTP. Thus, the Ras protein is trapped in the “on” position and continues to stimulate cell growth.

15.5.1. Protein Kinase Inhibitors May Be Effective Anticancer Drugs

Image caduceus.jpg The widespread occurrence of over active protein kinases in cancer cells suggests that molecules that inhibit these enzymes might act as antitumor agents. Recent results have dramatically supported this concept. More than 90% of patients with chronic myologenous leukemia (CML) show a specific chromosomal defect in affected cells (Figure 15.37). The translocation of genetic material between chromosomes 9 and 22 causes the c-abl gene, which encodes a tyrosine kinase, to be inserted into the bcr gene on chromosome 22. The result is the production of a fusion protein called Bcr-Abl that consists primarily of sequences for the c-Abl kinase. However, the bcr-abl gene is not regulated appropriately; it is expressed at higher levels than the gene encoding the normal c-Abl kinase. In addition, the Bcr-Abl protein may have regulatory properties that are subtly different from those of the c-Abl kinase itself. Thus, leukemia cells express a unique target for chemotherapy. Recent clinical trials of a specific inhibitor of the Bcr-Abl kinase have shown dramatic results; more than 90% of patients responded well to the treatment. This approach to cancer chemotherapy is fundamentally distinct from most approaches, which target cancer cells solely on the basis of their rapid growth, leading to side effects because normal rapidly growing cells also are affected. Thus, our understanding of signal-transduction pathways is leading to conceptually new disease treatments.

Image ch15fu9.jpg

Figure 15.37. Formation of the Bcr-Abl Gene by Translocation.

Figure 15.37

Formation of the Bcr-Abl Gene by Translocation. In chronic myologenous leukemia, parts of chromosomes 9 and 22 are reciprocally exchanged, causing the bcr and abl genes to fuse. The protein kinase encoded by the bcr-abl gene is expressed at higher levels (more...)

15.5.2. Cholera and Whooping Cough Are Due to Altered G-Protein Activity

Image caduceus.jpg We consider here some pathologies of the G-protein-dependent signal pathways. Let us first consider the mechanism of action of the cholera toxin, secreted by the intestinal bacterium Vibrio cholera. Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that can be life threatening. It causes voluminous secretion of electrolytes and fluids from the intestines of infected persons. The cholera toxin, choleragen, is a protein composed of two functional units—a B subunit that binds to GM1 gangliosides of the intestinal epithelium and a catalytic A subunit that enters the cell. The A subunit catalyzes the covalent modification of a Gαs protein: the α subunit is modified by the attachment of an ADP-ribose to an arginine residue. This modification stabilizes the GTP-bound form of Gαs, trapping the molecule in the active conformation. The active G protein, in turn, continuously activates protein kinase A. PKA opens a chloride channel (a CFTR channel; Section 13.3) and inhibits the Na+-H+ exchanger by phosphorylation. The net result of the phosphorylation of these channels is an excessive loss of NaCl and the loss of large amounts of water into the intestine. Patients suffering from cholera for 4 to 6 days may pass as much as twice their body weight in fluid. Treatment consists of rehydration with a glucose-electrolyte solution.

Whereas cholera is a result of a G protein trapped in the active conformation, causing the signal-transduction pathway to be perpetually stimulated, pertussis, or whooping cough, is a result of the opposite situation. Pertussis toxin also adds an ADP-ribose moiety,— in this case, to a Gαi protein, a Gα protein that inhibits adenyl cyclase, closes Ca2+ channels, and opens K+ channels. The effect of this modification, however, is to lower the G protein's affinity for GTP, effectively trapping it in the “off” conformation. The pulmonary symptoms have not yet been traced to a particular target of the Gαi protein. Pertussis toxin is secreted by Bordetella pertussis, the bacterium responsible for whooping cough.

Cholera and pertussis are but two examples of diseases caused by defects in G proteins. Table 15.4 lists others. In light of the fact that G proteins relay signals for more than 500 receptors, it is likely that this list will continue to grow.

Table 15.4. Diseases of heterotrimeric G proteins.

Table 15.4

Diseases of heterotrimeric G proteins.

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Copyright © 2002, W. H. Freeman and Company.
Bookshelf ID: NBK22359


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