K-RAS is frequently mutated in human lung adenocarcinomas (ADCs), and the p53 pathway plays a central role in cellular defense against oncogenic K-RAS mutation. However, in mouse lung cancer models, oncogenic K-RAS mutation alone can induce ADCs without p53 mutation, and loss of p53 does not have a significant impact on early K-RAS-induced lung tumorigenesis. These results raise the question of how K-RAS-activated cells evade oncogene surveillance mechanisms and develop into lung ADCs. RUNX3 plays a key role at the restriction (R)-point, which governs multiple tumor suppressor pathways including the p14ARF-p53 pathway. In this study, we found that K-RAS activation in a very limited number of cells, alone or in combination with p53 inactivation, failed to induce any pathologic lesions for up to 1 year. By contrast, when Runx3 was inactivated and K-RAS was activated by the same targeting method, lung ADCs and other tumors were rapidly induced. In a urethane-induced mouse lung tumor model that recapitulates the features of K-RAS-driven human lung tumors, Runx3 was inactivated in both adenomas (ADs) and ADCs, whereas K-RAS was activated only in ADCs. Together, these results demonstrate that the R-point-associated oncogene surveillance mechanism is abrogated by Runx3 inactivation in AD cells and these cells cannot defend against K-RAS activation, resulting in the transition from AD to ADC. Therefore, K-RAS-activated lung epithelial cells do not evade oncogene surveillance mechanisms; instead, they are selected if they occur in AD cells in which Runx3 has been inactivated.
Keywords: K-Ras; Runx3; cancer initiation; lung cancer; p53.