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Oncogene. 2006 Nov 9;25(53):7086-95. Epub 2006 May 29.

Self-association of the transmembrane domain of RET underlies oncogenic activation by MEN2A mutations.

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Department of Neuroscience, Division of Molecular Neurobiology, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


In patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) and type 2A multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A), mutations of cysteine residues in the extracellular juxtamembrane region of the RET receptor tyrosine kinase cause the formation of covalent receptor dimers linked by intermolecular disulfide bonds between unpaired cysteines, followed by oncogenic activation of the RET kinase. The close proximity to the plasma membrane of the affected cysteine residues prompted us to investigate the possible role of the transmembrane (TM) domain of RET (RET-TM) in receptor-receptor interactions underlying dimer formation. Strong self-association of the RET-TM was observed in a biological membrane. Mutagenesis studies indicated the involvement of the evolutionary conserved residues Ser-649 and Ser-653 in RET-TM oligomerization. Unexpectedly, RET-TM interactions were also abrogated in the A639G/A641R double mutant, first identified in a sporadic case of MTC. In agreement with this, no transforming activity could be detected in full-length RET carrying the A639G and A641R mutations, which remained fully responsive to glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) stimulation. When introduced in the context of C634R - a cysteine replacement that is prevalent in MEN2A cases - the A639G/A641R mutations significantly reduced dimer formation and transforming activity in this otherwise highly oncogenic RET variant. These data suggest that a strong propensity to self-association in the RET-TM underlies - and may be required for - dimer formation and oncogenic activation of juxtamembrane cysteine mutants of RET, and explains the close proximity to the plasma membrane of cysteine residues implicated in MEN2A and MTC syndromes.

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