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Activating ROCK1 somatic mutations in human cancer


Cancer cells acquire characteristics of deregulated growth, survival and increased metastatic potential. Genetic mutations that provide a selective advantage by promoting these characteristics have been termed ‘drivers,’ whereas mutations that do not contribute to disease initiation/progression are termed ‘passengers.’ The advent of high-throughput methodologies has facilitated large-scale screening of cancer genomes and the subsequent identification of novel somatic mutations. Although this approach has generated valuable results, the data remain incomplete until the functional consequences of these mutations are determined to differentiate potential drivers from passengers. ROCK1 is an essential effector kinase downstream of Rho GTPases, an important pathway involved in cell migration. The Cancer Genome Project identified three nonsynonymous mutations in the ROCK1 gene. We now show that these somatic ROCK1 mutations lead to elevated kinase activity and drive actin cytoskeleton rearrangements that promote increased motility and decreased adhesion, characteristics of cancer progression. Mapping of the kinase-interacting regions of the carboxy terminus combined with structural modeling provides an insight into how these mutations likely affect the regulation of ROCK1. Consistent with the frequency of ROCK1 mutations in human cancer, these results support the conclusion that there is selective pressure for the ROCK1 gene to acquire ‘driver’ mutations that result in kinase activation.

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This study was supported by Cancer Research UK and by a grant to MFO from the NIH (CA030721). Assistance with protein modeling was provided by Felix Krueger (Babraham Institute).

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Correspondence to M F Olson.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on the Oncogene website

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Lochhead, P., Wickman, G., Mezna, M. et al. Activating ROCK1 somatic mutations in human cancer. Oncogene 29, 2591–2598 (2010).

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