Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) kinase 4 (MKK4) is a component of a stress and cytokine-induced signal transduction pathway involving MAPK proteins. The MKK4 protein has been implicated in activation of JNK1 and p38 MAPK on phosphorylation by conserved kinase pathways. A recent report on the deletion and mutation of the MKK4 gene in human pancreatic, lung, breast, testicle, and colorectal cancer cell lines suggests an additional role for MKK4 in tumor suppression. Both the gene function and the infrequency of mutations might be considered atypical for many human tumor suppressor genes, and constitutional DNA was not previously available to determine whether the reported sequence variants had preceded tumor development. Here, we report that homozygous deletions are detected in 2 of 92 pancreatic adenocarcinomas (2%), 1 of 16 biliary adenocarcinomas (6%), and 1 of 22 breast carcinomas (when combined with reported sequence alterations, 3 of 22 or 14%). In addition, in a panel of 45 pancreatic carcinomas prescreened for loss of heterozygosity, one somatic missense mutation of MKK4 is observed and confirmed in the primary tumor (2%).

Mapping of the homozygous deletions further indicated MKK4 to lie at the target of deletion. The finding of a somatic missense mutation in the absence of any other nucleotide polymorphisms or silent nucleotide changes continues to favor MKK4 as a mutationally targeted tumor suppressor gene. Coexistent mutations of other tumor suppressor genes in MKK4-deficient tumors suggest that MKK4 may participate in a tumor suppressive signaling pathway distinct from DPC4, p16, p53, and BRCA2.

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Supported by the NIH SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) in Gastrointestinal Cancer CA62924, and Deutsche Krebshilfe (W. H.).

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