Oncogene-initiated aberrant signaling engenders the metastatic phenotype: synergistic transcription factor interactions are targets for cancer therapy

Crit Rev Oncog. 1996;7(3-4):261-91. doi: 10.1615/critrevoncog.v7.i3-4.70.


Certain p21GTPases (notably Ras) and some of their guanine nucleotide exchange factors (e.g., Ost, Dbl, Tiam) and downstream mediators (e.g., Raf, Myc) have the potential to promote the development of malignancies because they can enhance the transcription of genes that foster the tumorigenic and metastatic phenotype. Among these are genes that stimulate cell proliferation, confer immortality, and facilitate the invasion of normal tissues. Oncogenes upstream of Ras-cell surface receptors such as ErbB2/Neu, Met, or Trk (and their ligands), and nonreceptor cytoplasmic protein tyrosine kinases such as Src and Abl-not only can act through Ras but also contribute additional signals. This review presents a synopsis of our understanding of signaling pathways controlled by the p21GTPases, with a focus on transcription factors regulated by the pathways. Mutations in one or more of the elements in these signaling pathways are invariably found in cancer cells. Crosstalk among the pathways may explain how some forms of stress can contribute to the development of a malignancy. Abnormal signaling leads to modified cytoskeletal structures and permanently altered (i.e., self-sustaining or epigenetic) transcription of target genes. A common therne is that genes whose transcription is elevated to the greatest extent by Ras often have in their promoters juxtaposed binding sites for two different transcription factors (particularly those in the Fos/Jun, CREB/ATF, NFkB, and Ets families) each of which is activated and such that together they synergize to augment transcription substantially. Some of these transcription factors can also act as oncogenes in certain cell types when appropriately modified and expressed. This unifying theme among many different cancers suggests that strategies to restore the balance among the signaling pathways or to suppress synergistic interactions between transcription factors may prove broadly useful in reversing the malignant phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / genetics
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Genes, fos
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics*
  • Oncogenes*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / drug effects
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins


  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • Transcription Factors
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins