Differential functions of the KRAS splice variants
RAS proteins are small GTPases that transduce signals from membrane receptors to signaling pathways that regulate growth and differentiation. Four RAS proteins are encoded by three genes - HRAS, KRAS, NRAS. Among them, KRAS is mutated in human cancer more frequently than any other oncogene. The KRAS pre-mRNA is alternatively spliced to generate two transcripts, KRAS4A and KRAS4B, that encode distinct proto-oncoproteins that differ almost exclusively in their C-terminal hypervariable regions (HVRs) that controls subcellular trafficking and membrane association. The KRAS4A isoform arose 475 million years ago in jawed vertebrates and has persisted in all vertebrates ever since, strongly suggesting non-overlapping functions of the splice variants. Because KRAS4B is expressed at higher levels in most tissues, it has been considered the principal KRAS isoform. However, emerging evidence for KRAS4A expression in tumors and splice variant-specific interactions and functions have sparked interest in this gene product. Among these findings, the KRAS4A-specific regulation of hexokinase I is a stark example. The aim of this mini-review is to provide an overview of the origin and differential functions of the two splice variants of KRAS.
RAB27B controls palmitoylation-dependent NRAS trafficking and signaling in myeloid leukemia
RAS mutations are among the most prevalent oncogenic drivers in cancers. RAS proteins propagate signals only when associated with cellular membranes as a consequence of lipid modifications that impact their trafficking. Here, we discovered that RAB27B, a RAB family small GTPase, controlled NRAS palmitoylation and trafficking to the plasma membrane, a localization required for activation. Our proteomic studies revealed RAB27B upregulation in CBL- or JAK2-mutated myeloid malignancies, and its expression correlated with poor prognosis in acute myeloid leukemias (AMLs). RAB27B depletion inhibited the growth of CBL-deficient or NRAS-mutant cell lines. Strikingly, Rab27b deficiency in mice abrogated mutant but not WT NRAS-mediated progenitor cell growth, ERK signaling, and NRAS palmitoylation. Further, Rab27b deficiency significantly reduced myelomonocytic leukemia development in vivo. Mechanistically, RAB27B interacted with ZDHHC9, a palmitoyl acyltransferase that modifies NRAS. By regulating palmitoylation, RAB27B controlled c-RAF/MEK/ERK signaling and affected leukemia development. Importantly, RAB27B depletion in primary human AMLs inhibited oncogenic NRAS signaling and leukemic growth. We further revealed a significant correlation between RAB27B expression and sensitivity to MEK inhibitors in AMLs. Thus, our studies presented a link between RAB proteins and fundamental aspects of RAS posttranslational modification and trafficking, highlighting future therapeutic strategies for RAS-driven cancers.
Origin and Evolution of RAS Membrane Targeting
KRAS, HRAS and NRAS proto-oncogenes belong to a family of 40 highly homologous genes, which in turn are a subset of a superfamily of >160 genes encoding small GTPases. RAS proteins consist of a globular G-domain (aa1-166) and a 22-23 aa unstructured hypervariable region (HVR) that mediates membrane targeting. The evolutionary origins of the RAS isoforms, their HVRs and alternative splicing of the KRAS locus has not been explored. We found that KRAS is basal to the RAS proto-oncogene family and its duplication generated HRAS in the common ancestor of vertebrates. In a second round of duplication HRAS generated NRAS and KRAS generated an additional RAS gene we have designated KRASBL, absent in mammals and birds. KRAS4A arose through a duplication and insertion of the 4th exon of NRAS into the 3rd intron of KRAS. We found evolutionary conservation of a short polybasic region (PBR1) in HRAS, NRAS and KRAS4A, a second polybasic region (PBR2) in KRAS4A, two neutralized basic residues (NB) and a serine in KRAS4B and KRASBL, and a modification of the CaaX motif in vertebrates with farnesyl rather than geranylgeranyl polyisoprene lipids, suggesting that a less hydrophobic membrane anchor is critical to RAS protein function. The persistence of four RAS isoforms through >400 million years of evolution argues strongly for differential function.
Consensus on the RAS dimerization hypothesis: Strong evidence for lipid-mediated clustering but not for G-domain-mediated interactions
One of the open questions in RAS biology is the existence of RAS dimers and their role in RAF dimerization and activation. The idea of RAS dimers arose from the discovery that RAF kinases function as obligate dimers, which generated the hypothesis that RAF dimer formation might be nucleated by G-domain-mediated RAS dimerization. Here, we review the evidence for RAS dimerization and describe a recent discussion among RAS researchers that led to a consensus that the clustering of two or more RAS proteins is not due to the stable association of G-domains but, instead, is a consequence of RAS C-terminal membrane anchors and the membrane phospholipids with which they interact.
Palmitoylation and PDE6δ regulate membrane-compartment-specific substrate ubiquitylation and degradation
Substrate degradation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) in specific membrane compartments remains elusive. Here, we show that the interplay of two lipid modifications and PDE6δ regulates compartmental substrate targeting via the SCFFBXL2. FBXL2 is palmitoylated in a prenylation-dependent manner on cysteines 417 and 419 juxtaposed to the CaaX motif. Palmitoylation/depalmitoylation regulates its subcellular trafficking for substrate engagement and degradation. To control its subcellular distribution, lipid-modified FBXL2 interacts with PDE6δ. Perturbing the equilibrium between FBXL2 and PDE6δ disrupts the delivery of FBXL2 to all membrane compartments, whereas depalmitoylated FBXL2 is enriched on the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Depalmitoylated FBXL2(C417S/C419S) promotes the degradation of IP3R3 at the ER, inhibits IP3R3-dependent mitochondrial calcium overload, and counteracts calcium-dependent cell death upon oxidative stress. In contrast, disrupting the PDE6δ-FBXL2 equilibrium has the opposite effect. These findings describe a mechanism underlying spatially-restricted substrate degradation and suggest that inhibition of FBXL2 palmitoylation and/or binding to PDE6δ may offer therapeutic benefits.
The role of KRAS splice variants in cancer biology
The three mammalian RAS genes (HRAS, NRAS and KRAS) encode four proteins that play central roles in cancer biology. Among them, KRAS is mutated more frequently in human cancer than any other oncogene. The pre-mRNA of KRAS is alternatively spliced to give rise to two products, KRAS4A and KRAS4B, which differ in the membrane targeting sequences at their respective C-termini. Notably, both KRAS4A and KRAS4B are oncogenic when KRAS is constitutively activated by mutation in exon 2 or 3. Whereas KRAS4B is the most studied oncoprotein, KRAS4A is understudied and until recently considered relatively unimportant. Emerging work has confirmed expression of KRAS4A in cancer and found non-overlapping functions of the splice variants. The most clearly demonstrated of these is direct regulation of hexokinase 1 by KRAS4A, suggesting that the metabolic vulnerabilities of KRAS-mutant tumors may be determined in part by the relative expression of the splice variants. The aim of this review is to address the most relevant characteristics and differential functions of the KRAS splice variants as they relate to cancer onset and progression.
Spontaneous hydrolysis and spurious metabolic properties of Î±-ketoglutarate esters
Î±-ketoglutarate (KG), also referred to as 2-oxoglutarate, is a key intermediate of cellular metabolism with pleiotropic functions. Cell-permeable esterified analogs are widely used to study how KG fuels bioenergetic and amino acid metabolism and DNA, RNA, and protein hydroxylation reactions, as cellular membranes are thought to be impermeable to KG. Here we show that esterified KG analogs rapidly hydrolyze in aqueous media, yielding KG that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, imports into many cell lines. Esterified KG analogs exhibit spurious KG-independent effects on cellular metabolism, including extracellular acidification, arising from rapid hydrolysis and de-protonation of Î±-ketoesters, and significant analog-specific inhibitory effects on glycolysis or mitochondrial respiration. We observe that imported KG decarboxylates to succinate in the cytosol and contributes minimally to mitochondrial metabolism in many cell lines cultured in normal conditions. These findings demonstrate that nuclear and cytosolic KG-dependent reactions may derive KG from functionally distinct subcellular pools and sources.
Post-translational modification of RAS proteins
Mutations of RAS genes drive cancer more frequently than any other oncogene. RAS proteins integrate signals from a wide array of receptors and initiate downstream signaling through pathways that control cellular growth. RAS proteins are fundamentally binary molecular switches in which the off/on state is determined by the binding of GDP or GTP, respectively. As such, the intrinsic and regulated nucleotide-binding and hydrolytic properties of the RAS GTPase were historically believed to account for the entirety of the regulation of RAS signaling. However, it is increasingly clear that RAS proteins are also regulated by a vast array of post-translational modifications (PTMs). The current challenge is to understand what are the functional consequences of these modifications and which are physiologically relevant. Because PTMs are catalyzed by enzymes that may offer targets for drug discovery, the study of RAS PTMs has been a high priority for RAS biologists.
Targeting KRAS4A splicing through the RBM39/DCAF15 pathway inhibits cancer stem cells
The commonly mutated human KRAS oncogene encodes two distinct KRAS4A and KRAS4B proteins generated by differential splicing. We demonstrate here that coordinated regulation of both isoforms through control of splicing is essential for development of Kras mutant tumors. The minor KRAS4A isoform is enriched in cancer stem-like cells, where it responds to hypoxia, while the major KRAS4B is induced by ER stress. KRAS4A splicing is controlled by the DCAF15/RBM39 pathway, and deletion of KRAS4A or pharmacological inhibition of RBM39 using Indisulam leads to inhibition of cancer stem cells. Our data identify existing clinical drugs that target KRAS4A splicing, and suggest that levels of the minor KRAS4A isoform in human tumors can be a biomarker of sensitivity to some existing cancer therapeutics.
NRAS is unique among RAS proteins in requiring ICMT for trafficking to the plasma membrane
Isoprenylcysteine carboxyl methyltransferase (ICMT) is the third of three enzymes that sequentially modify the C-terminus of CaaX proteins, including RAS. Although all four RAS proteins are substrates for ICMT, each traffics to membranes differently by virtue of their hypervariable regions that are differentially palmitoylated. We found that among RAS proteins, NRAS was unique in requiring ICMT for delivery to the PM, a consequence of having only a single palmitoylation site as its secondary affinity module. Although not absolutely required for palmitoylation, acylation was diminished in the absence of ICMT. Photoactivation and FRAP of GFP-NRAS revealed increase flux at the Golgi, independent of palmitoylation, in the absence of ICMT. Association of NRAS with the prenyl-protein chaperone PDE6Î´ also required ICMT and promoted anterograde trafficking from the Golgi. We conclude that carboxyl methylation of NRAS is required for efficient palmitoylation, PDE6Î´ binding, and homeostatic flux through the Golgi, processes that direct delivery to the plasma membrane.