Overexpression of wild type RRAS2, without oncogenic mutations, drives chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Mol Cancer. 2022 Feb 4;21(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s12943-022-01496-x.


Background: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most frequent, and still incurable, form of leukemia in the Western World. It is widely accepted that cancer results from an evolutionary process shaped by the acquisition of driver mutations which confer selective growth advantage to cells that harbor them. Clear examples are missense mutations in classic RAS genes (KRAS, HRAS and NRAS) that underlie the development of approximately 13% of human cancers. Although autonomous B cell antigen receptor (BCR) signaling is involved and mutations in many tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes have been identified, an oncogenic driver gene has not still been identified for CLL.

Methods: Conditional knock-in mice were generated to overexpress wild type RRAS2 and prove its driver role. RT-qPCR analysis of a human CLL sample cohort was carried out to measure RRAS2 transcriptional expression. Sanger DNA sequencing was used to identify a SNP in the 3'UTR region of RRAS2 in human CLL samples. RNAseq of murine CLL was carried out to identify activated pathways, molecular mechanisms and to pinpoint somatic mutations accompanying RRAS2 overexpression. Flow cytometry was used for phenotypic characterization and shRNA techniques to knockdown RRAS2 expression in human CLL.

Results: RRAS2 mRNA is found overexpressed in its wild type form in 82% of the human CLL samples analyzed (n = 178, mean and median = 5-fold) as well as in the explored metadata. A single nucleotide polymorphism (rs8570) in the 3'UTR of the RRAS2 mRNA has been identified in CLL patients, linking higher expression of RRAS2 with more aggressive disease. Deliberate overexpression of wild type RRAS2 in mice, but not an oncogenic Q72L mutation in the coding sequence, provokes the development of CLL. Overexpression of wild type RRAS2 in mice is accompanied by a strong convergent selection of somatic mutations in genes that have been identified in human CLL. R-RAS2 protein is physically bound to the BCR and mediates BCR signals in CLL.

Conclusions: The results indicate that overexpression of wild type RRAS2 is behind the development of CLL.

Keywords: B cell receptor; B cells; Chronic lymphocytic leukemia; Lymphoid malignancies; PI3K pathway; RAS proteins; RRAS2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genes, ras
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell* / genetics
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell* / pathology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins* / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell
  • Signal Transduction


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell
  • RRAS2 protein, human
  • Rras2 protein, mouse
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins