Numerous oncogenic mutations occur within the BRAF kinase domain (BRAF(KD)). Here we show that stable BRAF-MEK1 complexes are enriched in BRAF(WT) and KRAS mutant (MT) cells but not in BRAF(MT) cells. The crystal structure of the BRAF(KD) in a complex with MEK1 reveals a face-to-face dimer sensitive to MEK1 phosphorylation but insensitive to BRAF dimerization. Structure-guided studies reveal that oncogenic BRAF mutations function by bypassing the requirement for BRAF dimerization for activity or weakening the interaction with MEK1. Finally, we show that conformation-specific BRAF inhibitors can sequester a dormant BRAF-MEK1 complex resulting in pathway inhibition. Taken together, these findings reveal a regulatory role for BRAF in the MAPK pathway independent of its kinase activity but dependent on interaction with MEK.
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