Ras signaling is important for the intracellular transduction of mitogenic stimuli from activated growth factor receptors. We have investigated 37 sporadic malignant melanomas (15 primary cutaneous melanomas and 22 melanoma metastases) and 6 melanoma cell lines for mutations in the 3 Ras genes NRAS, KRAS and HRAS. All tumors and cell lines were additionally analyzed for mutation and expression of BRAF, which encodes a Ras-regulated serine/threonine kinase with oncogenic properties, as well as for expression of RASSF1A, which encodes a Ras-binding protein with tumor suppressor properties. Mutational analyses identified somatic NRAS mutations in 2 primary melanomas, 4 melanoma metastases and 2 cell lines. One melanoma metastasis showed a somatic KRAS mutation whereas HRAS mutations were not detected. Eight primary melanomas, 6 melanoma metastases and 4 melanoma cell lines carried BRAF mutations affecting the known hot-spot codon 599. None of the tumors or cell lines with BRAF mutation demonstrated NRAS or KRAS mutations. Real-time reverse transcription-PCR showed that 8 melanomas (3 primary tumors, 5 melanoma metastases) had reduced RASSF1A transcript levels of < or =50% relative to benign melanocytic nevi and normal skin. Three melanoma cell lines lacked detectable RASSF1A transcripts. The RASSF1A gene promoter was hypermethylated in these 3 cell lines as well as in 6 of 8 melanomas with reduced RASSF1A mRNA levels. Treatment of the cell lines with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine and trichostatin A resulted in demethylation of the RASSF1A promoter and re-expression of RASSF1A transcripts. Most tumors and all cell lines with RASSF1A promoter methylation additionally carried BRAF or NRAS mutations, suggesting a synergistic effect of these aberrations on melanoma growth. Taken together, 57% of the investigated melanomas and 100% of the melanoma cell lines carried mutations in either NRAS, KRAS or BRAF. In addition, 22% of the melanomas and 50% of the cell lines showed reduced RASSF1A transcript levels. Thus, alterations of Ras pathway genes are of paramount importance in the pathogenesis of sporadic melanomas.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.