Background: The small GTPase R-Ras displays a less potent transforming activity than the closely related Ras oncogene products. Although R-Ras has been reported to interact with c-Raf1 and Ral-GDS in vitro, the pathways by which it exerts its effects on cellular proliferation are not known.
Results: Both Ras and R-Ras interact with phosphoinositide (PI) 3-kinase in vitro, and induce elevation of the levels of PI 3-kinase lipid products in intact cells. Unlike Ras, R-Ras does not activate Raf or mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase in cells. In co-transfection assays, the serine/threonine protein kinase PKB (or Akt) is effectively stimulated by R-Ras, Ras, mutants of Ras that activate PI 3-kinase but not other effectors, and activated forms of PI 3-kinase. Ras and R-Ras stimulate PKB/Akt through a non-autocrine mechanism that involves PI 3-kinase. The constitutive activation of PI 3-kinase alone is sufficient to activate PKB/Akt, but not the MAP kinase ERK or the stress-activated protein kinase, Jun N-terminal kinase. Transformation assays in fibroblasts suggest that PKB/Akt and Raf are part of distinct oncogenic signalling pathways.
Conclusions: Both the Raf-MAP kinase and PI 3-kinase-PKB/Akt pathways are activated by Ras, but only the PI 3-kinase-PKB/Akt pathway is activated by R-Ras. PI 3-kinase, and downstream targets such as PKB/Akt, are likely to be essential mediators of transformation induced by R-Ras. PI 3-kinase, as well as Raf, is thus implicated also in Ras transformation.