The Myc oncoprotein: a critical evaluation of transactivation and target gene regulation

Oncogene. 1999 May 13;18(19):2916-24. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1202748.


Mutations which disrupt the regulation or expression level of the c-myc gene are among the most common found in human and animal cancers (reviewed in ref. Cole, 1986; Henriksson and Luscher, 1996; Marcu et al., 1992). Ectopic expression studies define numerous biological activities of the c-myc gene, including transformation, immortalization, blockage of cell differentiation and induction of apoptosis (Askew et al., 1991; Cole, 1986; Evan and Littlewood, 1993; Freytag et al., 1990; Henriksson and Luscher, 1996; Marcu et al., 1992). Furthermore, c-myc is required for efficient progression through the cell cycle (Goruppi et al., 1994; Prochownik et al., 1988; Yokoyama and Imamoto, 1987), although recent studies indicate that it is not absolutely essential (Mateyak et al., 1997). This fascinating array of biological activities makes the c-myc gene one of the most intriguing oncogenes and presents the challenging question of how a single gene can manifest so many different effects. The c-Myc protein exhibits sequence-specific DNA binding when dimerized with its partner Max, and DNA binding is mediated through the basic region, which recognizes the core sequence CACGTG (Berberich et al., 1992; Blackwell et al., 1993; Blackwood and Eisenman, 1991; Prendergast and Ziff, 1991; Prendergast et al., 1991), but exhibits somewhat higher affinity for the more extended sequence ACCACGTGGT (Berberich et al., 1992; Blackwell et al., 1993; Halazonetis and Kandil, 1991). There are three closely related Myc family proteins (c-Myc, N-Myc and L-Myc), each with documented oncogenic potential (Birrer et al., 1988; Schwab et al., 1985; Yancopoulos et al., 1985) and similar DNA binding properties (Mukherjee et al., 1992). For simplicity, we will use the term Myc to refer to all three proteins, but delineate any distinct activities where they apply. The goal of this review is to discuss Myc as a transcriptional activator and critically evaluate the evidence for the transactivation of specific target genes as direct downstream effectors. Since excellent comprehensive reviews on Myc have been published recently (Facchini and Penn, 1998; Henriksson and Luscher, 1996), we will focus on the latest observations that offer mechanistic insight into transactivation and oncogenic transformation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Genes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nuclear Proteins / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / physiology*
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Chromatin
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • transformation-transcription domain-associated protein