Ras Activation of the Raf Kinase: Tyrosine Kinase Recruitment of the MAP Kinase Cascade

Recent Prog Horm Res. 2001;56:127-55. doi: 10.1210/rp.56.1.127.


A continuing focus of our work has been an effort to understand the signal transduction pathways through which insulin achieves its cellular actions. In the mid-1970s, we and others observed that insulin promoted an increase in Ser/Thr phosphorylation of a subset of cellular proteins. This finding was unanticipated, inasmuch as nearly all of the actions of insulin then known appeared to result from protein dephosphorylation. In fact, nearly 15 years elapsed before any physiologic response to insulin attributable to stimulated (Ser/Thr) phosphorylation was established. Nevertheless, based on the hypothesis that insulin-stimulated Ser/Thr phosphorylation reflected the activation of protein (Ser/Thr) kinases downstream of the insulin receptor, we sought to detect and purify these putative, insulin-responsive protein (Ser/Thr) kinases. Our effort was based on the presumption that an understanding of the mechanism for their activation would provide an entry into the biochemical reactions through which the insulin receptor activated its downstream effectors. To a degree that, in retrospect, is surprising, this goal was accomplished, much in the way originally envisioned. It is now well known that receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) recruit a large network of protein (Ser/Thr) kinases to execute their cellular programs. The first of these insulin-activated protein kinase networks to be fully elucidated was the Ras-Raf-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade. This pathway is a central effector of cellular differentiation in development; moreover, its inappropriate and continuous activation provides a potent promitogenic force and is a very common occurrence in human cancers. Conversely, this pathway contributes minimally, if at all, to insulin's program of metabolic regulation. Nevertheless, the importance of the Ras-MAPK pathway in metazoan biology and human malignancies has impelled us to an ongoing analysis of the functions and regulation of Ras and Raf. This chapter will summarize briefly the way in which work from this and other laboratories on insulin signaling led to the discovery of the mammalian MAP kinase cascade and, in turn, to the identification of unique role of the Raf kinases in RTK activation of this protein (Ser/Thr) kinase cascade. We will then review in more detail current understanding of the biochemical mechanism through which the Ras proto-oncogene, in collaboration with the 14-3-3 protein and other protein kinases, initiates activation of the Raf kinase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 14-3-3 Proteins
  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-raf / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Threonine / metabolism
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • ras Proteins / metabolism*


  • 14-3-3 Proteins
  • Threonine
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptor, Insulin
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-raf
  • ras Proteins