G-protein-coupled receptor genes as protooncogenes: constitutively activating mutation of the alpha 1B-adrenergic receptor enhances mitogenesis and tumorigenicity.
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The alpha 1B-adrenergic receptor (alpha 1B-ADR) is a member of the G-protein-coupled family of transmembrane receptors. When transfected into Rat-1 and NIH 3T3 fibroblasts, this receptor induces focus formation in an agonist-dependent manner. Focus-derived, transformed fibroblasts exhibit high levels of functional alpha 1B-ADR expression, demonstrate a catecholamine-induced enhancement in the rate of cellular proliferation, and are tumorigenic when injected into nude mice. Induction of neoplastic transformation by the alpha 1B-ADR, therefore, identifies this normal cellular gene as a protooncogene. Mutational alteration of this receptor can lead to activation of this protooncogene, resulting in an enhanced ability of agonist to induce focus formation with a decreased latency and quantitative increase in transformed foci. In contrast to cells expressing the wild-type alpha 1B-ADR, focus formation in "oncomutant"-expressing cell lines appears constitutively activated with the generation of foci in unstimulated cells. Further, these cell lines exhibit near-maximal rates of proliferation even in the absence of catecholamine supplementation. They also demonstrate an enhanced ability for tumor generation in nude mice with a decreased period of latency compared with cells expressing the wild-type receptor. Thus, the alpha 1B-ADR gene can, when overexpressed and activated, function as an oncogene inducing neoplastic transformation. Mutational alteration of this receptor gene can result in the activation of this protooncogene, enhancing its oncogenic potential. These findings suggest that analogous spontaneously occurring mutations in this class of receptor proteins could play a key role in the induction or progression of neoplastic transformation and atherosclerosis.
Dr. Lefkowitz’s memoir, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm, recounts his early career as a cardiologist and his transition to biochemistry, which led to his Nobel Prize win.
Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D. is Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1976. Dr. Lefkowitz began his research career in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when there was not a clear consensus that specific receptors for drugs and hormones even existed. His group spent 15 difficult years developing techniques for labeling the receptors with radioactive drugs and then purifying the four different receptors that were known and thought to exist for adrenaline, so called adrenergic receptors. In 1986 Dr. Lefkowitz transformed the understanding of what had by then become known as G protein coupled receptors because of the way the receptor signal for the inside of a cell through G proteins, when he and his colleagues cloned the gene for the beta2-adrenergic receptor. They immediately recognized the similarity to a molecule called rhodopsin which is essentially a light receptor in the retina. This unexpected finding established the beta receptor and rhodopsin as the first member of a new family of proteins. Because each has a peptide structure, which weaves across the cell membrane seven times, these receptors are referred to as seven transmembrane receptors. This super family is now known to be the largest, most diverse and most therapeutically accessible of all the different kinds of cellular receptors. There are almost a thousand members of this receptor family and they regulate virtually all known physiological processes in humans. They include the receptors not only to numerous hormones and neurotransmitters but for the receptors which mediate the senses of sweet and bitter taste and smell amongst many others. Dr. Lefkowitz also discovered the mechanism by which receptor signaling is turned off, a process known as desensitization. Dr. Lefkowitz work was performed at the most fundamental and basic end of the research spectrum and has had remarkable consequences for clinical medicine. Today, more than half of all prescription drug sales are of drugs that target either directly or indirectly the receptors discovered by Dr. Lefkowitz and his trainees. These include amongst many others beta blockers, angiotensin receptor blockers or ARBs and antihistamines. Over the past decade he has discovered novel mechanisms by which the receptors function which may lead to the development of an entirely new class of drugs called “biased agonists”. Several such compounds are already in advanced stages of clinical testing. Dr. Lefkowitz has received numerous honors and awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Shaw Prize, the Albany Prize, and the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was elected to the USA National Academy of Sciences in 1988, the Institute of Medicine in 1994, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988.
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