Targeting the Raf-MEK-ERK mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade for the treatment of cancer

Oncogene. 2007 May 14;26(22):3291-310. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1210422.


Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades are key signaling pathways involved in the regulation of normal cell proliferation, survival and differentiation. Aberrant regulation of MAPK cascades contribute to cancer and other human diseases. In particular, the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) MAPK pathway has been the subject of intense research scrutiny leading to the development of pharmacologic inhibitors for the treatment of cancer. ERK is a downstream component of an evolutionarily conserved signaling module that is activated by the Raf serine/threonine kinases. Raf activates the MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK)1/2 dual-specificity protein kinases, which then activate ERK1/2. The mutational activation of Raf in human cancers supports the important role of this pathway in human oncogenesis. Additionally, the Raf-MEK-ERK pathway is a key downstream effector of the Ras small GTPase, the most frequently mutated oncogene in human cancers. Finally, Ras is a key downstream effector of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is mutationally activated and/or overexpressed in a wide variety of human cancers. ERK activation also promotes upregulated expression of EGFR ligands, promoting an autocrine growth loop critical for tumor growth. Thus, the EGFR-Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK signaling network has been the subject of intense research and pharmaceutical scrutiny to identify novel target-based approaches for cancer treatment. In this review, we summarize the current status of the different approaches and targets that are under evaluation and development for the therapeutic intervention of this key signaling pathway in human disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / physiology
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / physiology
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • raf Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • raf Kinases / genetics
  • raf Kinases / physiology


  • raf Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases