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Neoplasia. 2010 Sep;12(9):708-17.

Mutations in the c-Kit gene disrupt mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling during tumor development in adenoid cystic carcinoma of the salivary glands.

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  • 1Head and Neck Cancer Research Laboratory, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-1330, USA.


The Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway is considered to be a positive regulator of tumor initiation, progression, and maintenance. This study reports an opposite finding: we have found strong evidence that the MAPK pathway is inhibited in a subset of adenoid cystic carcinomas (ACCs) of the salivary glands. ACC tumors consistently overexpress the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) c-Kit, which has been considered a therapeutic target. We performed mutational analysis of the c-Kit gene (KIT in 17 cases of ACC and found that 2 cases of ACC had distinct missense mutations in KIT at both the genomic DNA and messenger RNA levels. These mutations caused G664R and R796G amino acid substitutions in the kinase domains. Surprisingly, the mutations were functionally inactive in cultured cells. We observed a significant reduction of MAPK (ERK1/2) activity in tumor cells, as assessed by immunohistochemistry. We performed further mutational analysis of the downstream effectors in the c-Kit pathway in the genes HRAS, KRAS, NRAS, BRAF, PIK3CA, and PTEN. This analysis revealed that two ACC tumors without KIT mutations had missense mutations in either KRAS or BRAF, causing S17N K-Ras and V590I B-Raf mutants, respectively. Our functional analysis showed that proteins with these mutations were also inactive in cultured cells. This is the first time that MAPK activity from the RTK signaling has been shown to be inhibited by gene mutations during tumor development. Because ACC seems to proliferate despite inactivation of the c-Kit signaling pathway, we suggest that selective inhibition of c-Kit is probably not a suitable treatment strategy for ACC.

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