Molecular mechanisms of RET activation in human cancer

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun;963:116-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04102.x.


Mutations that produce oncogenes with dominant gain of function target receptor protein tyrosine kinases (PTKs) in cancer and confer uncontrolled proliferation, impaired differentiation, or unrestrained survival to the cancer cell. However, insufficient PTK signaling may be responsible for developmental diseases. Gain of function of the RET receptor PTK is associated with human cancer. At the germline level, point mutations of RET are responsible for multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2A, MEN2B, and FMTC). Mutations of extracellular cysteines are found in MEN2A patients, and a Met918Thr mutation is responsible for most MEN2B cases. At the somatic level, gene rearrangements juxtaposing the tyrosine kinase domain of RET to heterologous gene partners are found in papillary carcinomas of the thyroid. These rearrangements generate the chimeric RET/PTC oncogenes. Both MEN2 mutations and PTC gene rearrangements potentiate the intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity of RET and, ultimately, the RET downstream signaling events. A multidocking site of the C-tail of RET is essential for both mitogenic and survival RET signaling. Such a site is involved in the recruitment of several intracellular molecules, such as the Shc, FRS2, IRS1, Gab1/2, and Enigma. The different activating mutations not only potentiate the enzymatic activity of the RET kinase but also may alter qualitatively RET signaling properties by: (1) altering RET autophosphorylation (in the case of the MEN2B mutation), (2) modifying the subcellular distribution of the active kinase, and (3) providing the active kinase with a scaffold for novel protein-protein interactions (as in the case of RET/PTC oncoproteins). This review describes the molecular mechanisms by which the different genetic alterations cause the conversion of RET into a dominant transforming oncogene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Papillary / metabolism*
  • Drosophila Proteins*
  • Humans
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / chemistry
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / chemistry
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Ret protein, Drosophila