Background: Ras proteins play an essential role in the transduction of signals from a wide range of cell-surface receptors to the nucleus. These signals may promote cellular proliferation or differentiation, depending on the cell background. It is well established that Ras plays an important role in the transduction of mitogenic signals from activated growth-factor receptors, leading to cell-cycle entry. However, important questions remain as to whether Ras controls signalling events during cell-cycle progression and, if so, at which point in the cell-cycle it is activated.
Results: To address these questions we have developed a novel, functional assay for the detection of cellular activated Ras. Using this assay, we found that Ras was activated in HeLa cells, following release from mitosis, and in NIH 3T3 fibroblasts, following serum-stimulated cell-cycle entry. In each case, peak Ras activation occurred in mid-G1 phase. Ras activation in HeLa cells at mid-G1 phase was dependent on RNA and protein synthesis and was not associated with tyrosine phosphorylation of Shc proteins and their binding to Grb2. Significantly, activation of Ras and the extracellular-signal regulated (ERK) sub-group of mitogen-activated protein kinases were not temporally correlated during G1-phase progression.
Conclusions: Activation of Ras during mid-G1 phase appears to differ in many respects from its rapid activation by growth factors, suggesting a novel mechanism of regulation that may be intrinsic to cell-cycle progression. Furthermore, the temporal dissociation between Ras and ERK activation suggests that Ras targets alternate effector pathways during G1-phase progression.