Raf: a strategic target for therapeutic development against cancer

Muralidhar Beeram, Amita Patnaik, Eric K Rowinsky
Journal of Clinical Oncology 2005 September 20, 23 (27): 6771-90
The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway plays a critical role in transmitting proliferative signals generated by cell surface receptors and cytoplasmic signaling elements to the nucleus. Several important signaling elements of the MAPK pathway, particularly Ras and Raf, are encoded by oncogenes, and as such, their structures and functions can be modified, rendering them constitutively active. Because the MAPK pathway is dysregulated in a notable proportion of human malignancies, many of its aberrant and critical components represent strategic targets for therapeutic development against cancer. Raf, which is an essential serine/threonine kinase constituent of the MAPK pathway and a downstream effector of the central signal transduction mediator Ras, is activated in a wide range of human malignancies by aberrant signaling upstream of the protein (eg, growth factor receptors and mutant Ras) and activating mutations of the protein itself, both of which confer a proliferative advantage. Three isoforms of Raf have been identified, and therapeutics targeting Raf, including small-molecule inhibitors and antisense oligodeoxyribonucleotides (ASON), are undergoing clinical evaluation. The outcomes of these investigations may have far-reaching implications in the management of many types of human cancer. This review outlines the structure and diverse functions of Raf, the rationale for targeting Raf as a therapeutic strategy against cancer, and the present status of various therapeutic approaches including ASONs and small molecules, particularly sorafenib (BAY 43-9006).

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