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Genetic, biochemical and evolutionary facets of Xmrk-induced melanoma formation in the fish Xiphophorus.

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Physiologische Chemie I, Biozentrum, University of Würzburg, am Hubland, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany.


Certain interspecific hybrids of the fish Xiphophorus spontaneously develop melanoma induced by the derepression of the Xmrk oncogene. Xmrk is a recent duplicate of an orthologue of the mammalian epidermal growth factor receptor gene Egfr. In addition to a specific overexpression in melanoma, amino-acid substitutions in the extracellular domain leading to ligand-independent dimerisation and constitutive autophosphorylation are responsible for the tumorigenic potential of Xmrk. The Xmrk receptor induces several signal transduction pathways mediating cell proliferation and resistance to apoptosis and initiating dedifferentiation. Moreover, Xmrk upregulates the expression of the secreted protein osteopontin, inducing an autocrine loop possibly allowing invasion and survival in the dermis as a first step in malignancy. Hence, Xmrk is able to induce pathways essential for a transformed phenotype. Some of these events are equivalent to those found downstream of the mammalian Egfr, but others have clearly evolved differently or are specific for pigment cells. Xmrk is potentially hazardous, nonessential and located in a very unstable genomic region. Nevertheless, Xmrk has been maintained under purifying selection in divergent Xiphophorus species. Hence, Xmrk has probably a beneficial function under certain conditions. The analysis of this function is a major challenge for future research in the Xiphophorus model.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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