Environmental and molecular carcinogenesis are linked by the discovery that chemical carcinogen induced-mutations in the Hras or Kras genes drives tumor development in mouse skin. Importantly, enhanced expression or allele amplification of the mutant Ras gene contributes to selection of initiated cells, tumor persistence, and progression. To explore the consequences of Ras oncogene signal strength, primary keratinocytes were isolated and cultured from the LSL-HrasG12D and LSL-KrasG12D C57BL/6J mouse models and the mutant allele was activated by adeno-Cre recombinase. Keratinocytes expressing one (H) or two (HH) mutant alleles of HrasG12D, one KrasG12D allele (K), or one of each (HK) were studied. All combinations of activated Ras alleles stimulated proliferation and drove transformation marker expression, but only HH and HK formed tumors. HH, HK, and K sustained long-term keratinocyte growth in vitro, while H and WT could not. RNA-Seq yielded two distinct gene expression profiles; HH, HK, and K formed one cluster while H clustered with WT. Weak MAPK activation was seen in H keratinocytes but treatment with a BRAF inhibitor enhanced MAPK signaling and facilitated tumor formation. K keratinocytes became tumorigenic when they were isolated from mice where the LSL-KrasG12D allele was backcrossed from the C57BL/6 onto the FVB/N background. All tumorigenic keratinocytes but not the non-tumorigenic precursors shared a common remodeling of matrisomal gene expression that is associated with tumor formation. Thus, RAS oncogene signal strength determines cell-autonomous changes in initiated cells that are critical for their tumor-forming potential.
Published by Oxford University Press 2022.