Mutations in one of the three RAS genes (HRAS, KRAS, and NRAS) are present in nearly 20% of all human cancers. These mutations shift RAS to the GTP-loaded active state due to impairment in the intrinsic GTPase activity and disruption of GAP-mediated GTP hydrolysis, resulting in constitutive activation of effectors such as RAF. Because activation of RAF involves dimerization, RAS dimerization has been proposed as an important step in RAS-mediated activation of effectors. The α4-α5 allosteric lobe of RAS has been proposed as a RAS dimerization interface. Indeed, the NS1 monobody, which binds the α4-α5 region within the RAS G domain, inhibits RAS-dependent signaling and transformation as well as RAS nanoclustering at the plasma membrane. Although these results are consistent with a model in which the G domain dimerizes through the α4-α5 region, the isolated G domain of RAS lacks intrinsic dimerization capacity. Furthermore, prior studies analyzing α4-α5 point mutations have reported mixed effects on RAS function. Here, we evaluated the activity of a panel of single amino acid substitutions in the α4-α5 region implicated in RAS dimerization. We found that these proposed "dimerization-disrupting" mutations do not significantly impair self-association, signaling, or transformation of oncogenic RAS. These results are consistent with a model in which activated RAS protomers cluster in close proximity to promote the dimerization of their associated effector proteins (e.g., RAF) without physically associating into dimers mediated by specific molecular interactions. Our findings suggest the need for a nonconventional approach to developing therapeutics targeting the α4-α5 region.
Keywords: ERK-MAPK; GTPase; dimerization; nanoclustering; oncogenesis.
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