The RAS family includes three RAS genes, which encode four highly homologous proteins: H-, N-, and KRAS4A and 4B, the latter two being alternatively spliced forms differing only at the carboxyl terminus. Hyperactivation of RAS is common in human cancer, including hematological malignancies. Since RAS proteins are difficult to target, identification of alternative means to block RAS oncogenic signaling is critical for developing therapies against RAS-driven cancers. The biological activity of RAS proteins relies upon post-translational modifications (PTMs) that anchor RAS to cellular membranes. Among RAS PTMs, palmitoylation is required for the high affinity plasma membrane binding of NRAS, HRAS and KRAS4A. We have previously shown that palmitoylation is essential for NRAS leukemogenesis, suggesting that targeting RAS palmitoylation may be an effective therapy for NRAS-related cancers. For KRAS-driven cancer, although much research has been focused on the KRAS4B splice variant, which does not undergo palmitoylation, KRAS4A has recently been shown to play an essential role in the development of carcinogen-induced lung cancer in mice and to be widely expressed in human cancers. However, the role of palmitoylation in KRAS4A tumorigenesis is not clear. In this study we show that KRAS4A is expressed in human leukemia cell lines with KRAS mutations and that mutation at the palmitoylation site of oncogenic KRAS4A significantly abrogates its leukemogenic potential. However, unlike NRAS, palmitoylation defective KRAS4A still induces leukemia in mice, albeit with a much longer latency. Consistently, palmitoylation defection has less impact on signaling of KRAS4A comparing that of NRAS. Using NRAS/KRAS4A chimeric constructs, we found that the KIKK motif of KRAS4A contributes to the transforming activity of KRAS4A. Mutations at both palmitoylation site and the KIKK motif abolish the ability of oncogenic KRAS4A to induce leukemia in mice. These studies suggest that therapies targeting RAS palmitoylation may also be effective in treating KRAS4A associated malignancies and that interfering the KIKK membrane-targeting motif would enhance the therapeutic effectiveness.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.