Exploring environmental causes of altered ras effects: fragmentation plus integration?

Mol Carcinog. 2003 Feb;36(2):45-52. doi: 10.1002/mc.10093.


Mutations in ras genes are the most common abnormality of oncogenes in human cancer and a major example of activation by point mutation. Experimental and epidemiological studies support the notion that Ki-ras activation and expression may be chemically related. We discuss the potential role of several environmental compounds in the induction or promotion of ras mutations in humans, with a focus on exocrine pancreatic cancer, the human tumor with the highest prevalence at diagnosis of Ki-ras mutations. Organochlorine compounds, organic solvents, and coffee compounds may play an indirect role in causing Ki-ras mutations, rather than as direct inducers of the mutations. Although for some organochlorine compounds the induction of point mutations in ras oncogenes cannot be excluded, it seems more likely that the effects of these compounds are mediated through nongenomic or indirectly genotoxic mechanisms of action. Organic solvents also may act via enzymatic induction of ras mutagens or by providing a proliferation advantage to ras-mutated cell clones. In exocrine pancreatic cancer, caffeine, other coffee compounds, or other factors with which coffee drinking is associated could modulate Ki-ras activation by interfering with DNA repair, cell-cycle checkpoints, and apoptosis. Asbestos, cigarette smoking, and some dietary factors also may be involved in the initiation or the promotion of Ki-ras mutations in lung and colon cancers. Further development of the mechanistic scenarios proposed here could contribute to a meaningful integration of biological, clinical, and environmental knowledge on the causes of altered ras effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Coffee / adverse effects
  • Genes, ras / genetics*
  • Hazardous Substances / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / adverse effects
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Risk Factors


  • Coffee
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated