Rb/E2F: a two-edged sword in the melanocytic system

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2005 Jun;24(2):339-56. doi: 10.1007/s10555-005-1582-z.


Rb is a tumor suppressor that represses the expression of E2F regulated genes required for cell cycle progression. It is inactivated in melanomas and other cancer cells by phosphorylation catalyzed by persistent cyclin dependent kinase (CDK) activity. CDK activity is sustained in melanoma cells mostly by the elimination of the CDK inhibitor p16INK4A and by high levels of cyclins whose expression is maintained by stimuli emanating from activated cell surface receptors and/or mutated intracellular intermediates, such as N-Ras and B-Raf. However, Rb also suppresses the expression of apoptosis genes, and its presence protects normal melanocytes from cell death. Its high expression in human melanoma cells and tumors suggests a similar role in malignant cells as well. The differential release and suppression of E2F transcriptional activity is likely to depend on promoter-specific E2F/Rb interaction. Phosphorylated Rb is displaced from cell cycle genes but not from others. In addition, Rb gene repression is dependent on the nature of Rb-E2F interaction and the activity of the Rb-bound proteins recruited to the promoter. Deciphering the differences in Rb/E2F complex formation in normal and malignant melanocytes is likely to shed light on the mechanism by which Rb can exert tumor suppressing and promoting activities in this cellular system. The Rb/E2F pathway provides opportunities for efficient therapy at multiple levels. Novel drugs can reactivate Rb potential to suppress growth cycle promoting genes. In addition, the high E2F transcriptional activity in melanoma cells can be exploited to deliver cytotoxic molecules specifically to tumors, sparing the normal tissues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Cycle*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / biosynthesis
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • E2F Transcription Factors
  • Humans
  • Melanocytes
  • Melanoma / genetics*
  • Melanoma / physiopathology*
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / physiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology*


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • E2F Transcription Factors
  • Retinoblastoma Protein
  • Transcription Factors