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Mol Biol Cell. 1992 Feb;3(2):197-209.

c-Kit-kinase induces a cascade of protein tyrosine phosphorylation in normal human melanocytes in response to mast cell growth factor and stimulates mitogen-activated protein kinase but is down-regulated in melanomas.

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Department of Dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.


The proto-oncogene c-Kit, a transmembrane receptor tyrosine kinase, is an important regulator of cell growth whose constitutively active oncogenic counterpart, v-kit, induces sarcomas in cats. Mutations in murine c-kit that reduce the receptor tyrosine kinase activity cause deficiencies in the migration and proliferation of melanoblasts, hematopoietic stem cells, and primordial germ cells. We therefore investigated whether c-Kit regulates normal human melanocyte proliferation and plays a role in melanomas. We show that normal human melanocytes respond to mast cell growth factor (MGF), the Kit-ligand that stimulates phosphorylation of tyrosyl residues in c-Kit and induces sequential phosphorylation of tyrosyl residues in several other proteins. One of the phosphorylated intermediates in the signal transduction pathway was identified as an early response kinase (mitogen-activated protein [MAP] kinase). Dephosphorylation of a prominent 180-kDa protein suggests that MGF also activates a phosphotyrosine phosphatase. In contrast, MGF did not induce proliferation, the cascade of protein phosphorylations, or MAP kinase activation in the majority of cells cultured from primary nodular and metastatic melanomas that grow independently of exogenous factors. In the five out of eight human melanoma lines expressing c-kit mRNAs, c-Kit was not constitutively activated. Therefore, although c-Kit-kinase is a potent growth regulator of normal human melanocytes, its activity is not positively associated with malignant transformation.

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