Differential abilities of activated Raf oncoproteins to abrogate cytokine dependency, prevent apoptosis and induce autocrine growth factor synthesis in human hematopoietic cells

J A McCubrey, L S Steelman, P E Hoyle, W L Blalock, C Weinstein-Oppenheimer, R A Franklin, H Cherwinski, E Bosch, M McMahon
Leukemia 1998, 12 (12): 1903-29
Raf is a key serine-threonine protein kinase which participates in the transmission of growth, anti-apoptotic and differentiation messages. These signals can be initiated after receptor ligation and are transmitted to members of the MAP kinase cascade that subsequently activate transcription factors controlling gene expression. Raf is a member of a multigene family which includes: Raf-1, A-Raf and B-Raf. The roles that individual Raf kinases play in the regulation of normal and malignant hematopoietic cell growth are not clear. The following studies show that all three Raf kinases are functionally present in certain human hematopoietic cells, and their aberrant expression can result in abrogation of cytokine dependency. Cytokine-dependent TF-1 cells were infected with retroviruses encoding amino-terminal deleted (delta) A-Raf, B-Raf and Raf-1 proteins. These Raf proteins were conditionally inducible as they were fused to the hormone-binding domain of the estrogen receptor (ER). A hierarchy in the abilities of Raf-containing retroviruses to abrogate cytokine dependency was observed as deltaA-Raf:ER was 20- to 200-fold more efficient than either deltaRaf-1:ER or deltaB-Raf:ER, respectively. This result was unexpected as A-Raf is an intrinsically weaker kinase than either Raf-1 or B-Raf. The activated Raf proteins induced downstream MEK and MAP (ERK1 and ERK2) kinase activities in the cells which proliferated in response to Raf activation. Furthermore, a functional MEK signaling pathway was necessary as treatment of the cells with a MEK1-inhibitor suppressed Raf-mediated proliferation. To determine whether the regulatory phosphorylation residues contained in the modified Raf oncoproteins were necessary for transformation, they were altered by site-directed mutagenesis. Substitution of the regulatory phosphorylation tyrosine residues with phenylalanine in either A-Raf or Raf-1 reduced the capacity of these oncoproteins to abrogate cytokine dependency. In contrast, changing the critical aspartic acid residues of B-Raf to either tyrosine or phenylalanine increased the frequency of estradiol-responsive cells. Thus, the amino acids present in the regulatory residues modulated the capability of Raf proteins to abrogate the cytokine dependency of TF-1 cells. Differences in the levels of Raf and downstream kinase activities were observed between cytokine-dependent and estradiol-responsive deltaRaf:ER-infected cells as estradiol-responsive cells usually expressed more Raf and MEK activity than GM-CSF-dependent, deltaRaf:ER-infected cells. Abrogation of cytokine dependency by the activated deltaRaf:ER proteins was associated with autocrine growth factor synthesis which was sufficient to promote the growth of uninfected TF-1 cells. In summary, these observations indicate that the aberrant expression of certain activated deltaRaf:ER oncoproteins can alter the cytokine dependency of human hematopoietic TF-1 cells. These cells will be useful in evaluating the roles of the individual Raf oncoproteins in signal transduction, cell cycle progression, autocrine transformation, regulation of apoptosis and differentiation. Moreover, these Raf-infected cells may be important in evaluating the efficacy of novel anticancer drugs designed to inhibit Raf and downstream signal transduction molecules.

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