The Role of Redox-dependent Reactions with Kras Cysteine 118 in Tumorigenesis

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Counter, Christopher M

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The Ras family of small GTPases, comprised of the KRAS, NRAS, and HRAS genes, are mutated to encode constitutively-active, GTP-bound, oncogenic proteins in upwards of one quarter or more of all human cancers, which is well established to promote tumorigenesis. Despite the prominent role these genes play in human cancer, the encoded proteins have proven difficult to pharmacologically inhibit. Therefore, it is important to understand how Ras proteins are activated.

RAS proteins cycle between a GDP-bound inactive state and a GTP-bound active state through guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) and GTPase activating proteins (GAPs). GEFs facilitate the GDP-to-GTP exchange of RAS and promote RAS activation. Similar to GEFs, reactive oxygen/nitrogen species can also promote RAS activation through reactions with the thiol residue of cysteine 118 (C118). This residue may therefore play a role in RAS activation in cancer. To test this possibility, I investigated the effect of mutating C118 to serine (C118S) in Kras on (1) carcinogen-induced lung tumorigenesis, and (2) xenograft tumor growth of HRAS12V-transformed cells.

To explore the impact of the C118S mutation in Kras on carcinogen-induced lung tumorigenesis, I introduced a C118S mutation into the endogenous murine Kras allele and exposed the resultant mice to the carcinogen urethane, which induces Kras mutation-positive lung tumors. Kras+/C118S and KrasC118S/C118S mice developed fewer and smaller lung tumors than Kras+/+ mice. Although the KrasC118S allele did not appear to affect tumorigenesis when the remaining Kras allele was conditionally oncogenic (KrasG12D), there was a moderate imbalance of oncogenic mutations favoring the native Kras allele in tumors from Kras+/C118S mice treated with urethane. Therefore, mutating C118 of Kras impedes urethane-induced lung tumorigenesis.

To explore the the impact of the C118S mutation in Kras on xenograft tumor growth of HRAS12V-transformed cells, I tested and found that redox-dependent reactions with cysteine 118 (C118) and activation of wild type KRAS are critical for oncogenic HRAS-driven tumorigenesis. Such redox-dependent activation of KRAS affected both PI3K-AKT and RAF-MEK-ERK pathways. These findings were confirmed in the endogenous mouse Kras gene. Speicfically, oncogenic HRAS-transformed KrasC118S/C118S MEFs grew in soft agar and as xenograft tumors more slowly than similarly transformed Kras+/+ MEFs, suggesting that redox-dependent reactions with C118 of Kras promotes transformation and tumorigenesis.

Taken together, I have demonstrated a critical role of redox-dependent reactions with Kras C118 in tumorigenesis.






Huang, Lu (2015). The Role of Redox-dependent Reactions with Kras Cysteine 118 in Tumorigenesis. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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