Pak and Rac GTPases promote oncogenic KIT–induced neoplasms

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An acquired somatic mutation at codon 816 in the KIT receptor tyrosine kinase is associated with poor prognosis in patients with systemic mastocytosis and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Treatment of leukemic cells bearing this mutation with an allosteric inhibitor of p21–activated kinase (Pak) or its genetic inactivation results in growth repression due to enhanced apoptosis. Inhibition of the upstream effector Rac abrogates the oncogene-induced growth and activity of Pak. Although both Rac1 and Rac2 are constitutively activated via the guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) Vav1, loss of Rac1 or Rac2 alone moderately corrected the growth of KIT-bearing leukemic cells, whereas the combined loss resulted in 75% growth repression. In vivo, the inhibition of Vav or Rac or Pak delayed the onset of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and corrected the associated pathology in mice. To assess the role of Rac GEFs in oncogene-induced transformation, we used an inhibitor of Rac, EHop-016, which specifically targets Vav1 and found that EHop-016 was a potent inhibitor of human and murine leukemic cell growth. These studies identify Pak and Rac GTPases, including Vav1, as potential therapeutic targets in MPN and AML involving an oncogenic form of KIT.

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