Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) is a receptor-type transmembrane tyrosine kinase (RTK) of the insulin receptor superfamily that structurally is most closely related to leukocyte tyrosine kinase. It was first discovered as a chimeric protein (NPM-ALK) of nucleophosmin and the C-terminal (kinase) domain of ALK in anaplastic large cell lymphomas (ALCL). NPM-ALK is constitutively active and generates the oncogenic signals that are the pathogenic mechanisms of these highly malignant cancers. The full-length ALK also is believed to have an important role in the pathogenesis of other human malignancies, since its expression is found in rhabdomyosarcomas, neuroblastomas, neuroectodermal tumors, glioblastomas, breast carcinomas, and melanomas. Recently it was proposed that pleiotrophin (PTN the protein, Ptn the gene) is the ligand that stimulates ALK to transduce signals to activate downstream targets. However, this proposal contrasted with earlier studies that demonstrated Receptor Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase (RPTP)β/ζ is the functional receptor for PTN. PTN was shown to inactivate RPTPβ/ζ and thereby permit the activity of different tyrosine kinases to increase tyrosine phosphorylation of the substrates of RPTPβ/ζ at the sites that are dephosphorylated by RPTPβ/ζ in cells not stimulated by PTN. Subsequent studies identified β-catenin, β-adducin, Fyn, GIT1/Cat-1, P190RhoGAP, and histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC-2) as downstream targets of the PTN/RPTPβ/ζ signaling pathway and demonstrated that their levels of tyrosine phosphorylation increase in PTN-stimulated cells. This diversity of PTN-regulated targets is one basis for the pleiotrophic activities of PTN. We now demonstrate that tyrosine phosphorylation of ALK is increased in PTN-stimulated cells through the PTN/RPTPβ/ζ signaling pathway. It is furthermore shown that ALK is activated in PTN-stimulated cells when it is expressed in cells without its extracellular domain, that β-catenin is a substrate of ALK, that the tyrosine phosphorylation site in β-catenin phosphorylated by ALK is the same site dephosphorylated by RPTPβ/ζ, and that PTN-stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation of β-catenin requires expression of ALK. The data suggest a unique mechanism to activate ALK; the data support a mechanism in which β-catenin is phosphorylated in tyrosine through the coordinated inactivation of RPTPβ/ζ, the activation of the tyrosine kinase activity of ALK, and the phosphorylation of β-catenin by ALK at the same site regulated by RPTPβ/ζ in PTN-stimulated cells. Since PTN often is inappropriately expressed in the same malignancies that express ALK, the data suggest a mechanism through which ALK signaling may contribute to those malignancies that express full length ALK through the activity of PTN to signal constitutively the same pathways as NPM-ALK in ALCL.

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