Oncogenic RAC1 and NRAS drive resistance to endoplasmic reticulum stress through MEK/ERK signalling.
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Cancer cells are able to survive under conditions that cause endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER-stress), and can adapt to this stress by upregulating cell-survival signalling pathways and down-regulating apoptotic pathways. The cellular response to ER-stress is controlled by the unfolded protein response (UPR). Small Rho family GTPases are linked to many cell responses including cell growth and apoptosis. In this study, we investigate the function of small GTPases in cell survival under ER-stress. Using siRNA screening we identify that RAC1 promotes cell survival under ER-stress in cells with an oncogenic N92I RAC1 mutation. We uncover a novel connection between the UPR and N92I RAC1, whereby RAC1 attenuates phosphorylation of EIF2S1 under ER-stress and drives over-expression of ATF4 in basal conditions. Interestingly, the UPR connection does not drive resistance to ER-stress, as knockdown of ATF4 did not affect this. We further investigate cancer-associated kinase signalling pathways and show that RAC1 knockdown reduces the activity of AKT and ERK, and using a panel of clinically important kinase inhibitors, we uncover a role for MEK/ERK, but not AKT, in cell viability under ER-stress. A known major activator of ERK phosphorylation in cancer is oncogenic NRAS and we show that knockdown of NRAS in cells, which bear a Q61 NRAS mutation, sensitises to ER-stress. These findings highlight a novel mechanism for resistance to ER-stress through oncogenic activation of MEK/ERK signalling by small GTPases.
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Signal Transduction & Molecular Pharmacology
Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics
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Cell Signal, 2018, 44 pp. 127 - 137