Control of cell growth and differentiation occurs via extracellular signals known as growth factors. Growth factors are high affinity ligands for transmembrane receptors belonging to the family of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). A number of genetic evidences have implicated RTKs in human diseases including developmental disorders and cancer. For instance, germline missense mutations involving the Ret receptor are found in patients affected by multiple endocrine neoplasia types 2A and 2B (MEN2A and MEN2B) or familial medullary thyroid carcinomas. Somatic mutations in the Kit receptor are found in mastocytomas and in gastrointestinal tumors. Germline and sporadic mutations of the Met receptor have been described in kidney and hepatocellular carcinomas. Overexpression of the HER-2 slash neu receptor in breast cancer has been associated with tumor progression. The enzymatic activity of RTKs is strictly regulated and is usually inhibited under basal conditions. Receptor activation triggers a biochemical signalling cascade inside the cytoplasm, named signal transduction, which is subverted during the malignant transformation of cells. Signal transduction by RTKs is a multistep process which includes (i) Ligand binding and receptor dimerization, (ii) receptor phosphorylation on tyrosine residues (iii) recruitment to the receptor and activation of cytoplasmic signaling molecules that transmit signals to the nucleus. Each of the steps involved in this process can potentially be targeted to block the aberrant properties of tyrosine kinase receptors. By using the MET oncogene as a model this review focuses on the strategies that can be applied to therapeutically target RTKs.
Keywords: Receptor Tyrosine Kinase, MET Oncogene, Enzymatic activity, Signal Transduction, Catalytic Domain, Juxtamembrane Domain, C-Terminal Tail, Transmembrane Domain, Ret
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