The c-RET proto-oncogene encodes a receptor-type tyrosine kinase, and its mutations in the germ line are responsible for the inheritance of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A) and 2B (MEN2B). Ret kinases are constitutively activated as a result of MEN2A mutations (Ret-MEN2A) or MEN2B mutations (Ret-MEN2B). Here we demonstrate that UV light (UV) irradiation induces superactivation of the constitutively activated Ret-MEN2A and Ret- MEN2B as well as activation of c-Ret. Before UV irradiation, small percentages of c-Ret (3-4%) and Ret-MEN2B (1-2%) and large percentages of Ret-MEN2A (30-40%) were dimerized through disulfide bonds. These dimerized Ret proteins were preferentially autophosphorylated, suggesting a close relation between up-regulated kinase activity and disulfide bond-mediated dimerization of Ret proteins. We found that UV irradiation promotes the disulfide bond-mediated dimerization of the Ret proteins, in close association with activation and superactivation of Ret kinases. UV irradiation also induced dimerization and activation of the extracellular domain-deleted mutant Ret (Ret-PTC-1). Interestingly, the levels of basic kinase activity and dimerization of Ret-PTC-1-C376A, in which cysteine 376 in the tyrosine kinase domain of Ret-PTC-1 was replaced by alanine, were low and were not increased by UV irradiation. These results suggest that Ret-PTC-1 cysteine 376 is one of possibly multiple critical target amino acids of UV for Ret kinase activation. Overexpression of Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase in cells as a result of gene transfection prevented both the UV-mediated promotion of dimerization and the superactivation of Ret-MEN2A kinase. These results suggest that the UV-induced free radicals in cells attack intracellular domains of Ret to dimerize the kinase proteins for superactivation.
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