Background & aims: Ras oncoproteins are mutated in about 50% of human colorectal cancers, but their precise role in tumor initiation or progression is still unclear.
Methods: This study presents transgenic mice that express K-ras(V12G), the most frequent oncogenic mutation in human tumors, under control of the murine villin promoter in epithelial cells of the large and small intestine.
Results: More than 80% of the transgenic animals displayed single or multiple intestinal lesions, ranging from aberrant crypt foci (ACF) to invasive adenocarcinomas. Expression of K-ras(V12G) caused activation of the MAP kinase cascade, and the tumors were frequently characterized by deregulated cellular proliferation. Unexpectedly, we obtained no evidence of inactivating mutations of the tumor suppressor gene Apc, the "gatekeeper" in colonic epithelial proliferation. However, spontaneous mutation of the tumor-suppressor gene p53, a frequent feature in the human disease, was found in 3 of 7 tumors that were tested.
Conclusions: This animal model recapitulates the stages of tumor progression as well as a part of the genetic alterations found in human colorectal cancer. Furthermore, it indicates that activation of K-ras in concert with mutations in p53 may constitute a route to digestive tumor formation and growth, underlining the fact that the pathway to intestinal cancer is not necessarily a single road.