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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 October; 16(10): 5518–5526.
PMCID: PMC231551

A splicing variant of the RON transcript induces constitutive tyrosine kinase activity and an invasive phenotype.

Abstract

The Ron tyrosine kinase receptor shares with the members of its subfamily (Met and Sea) a unique functional feature: the control of cell dissociation, motility, and invasion of extracellular matrices (scattering). The mature Ron protein is a heterodimer of disulfide-linked alpha and beta chains, originated by proteolytic cleavage of a single-chain precursor of 185 kDa. In a human gastric cancer cell line (KATO-III), we found abnormal accumulation of an uncleaved single-chain protein (delta-Ron) of 165 kDa; this molecule is encoded by a transcript differing from the full-length RON mRNA by an in-frame deletion of 49 amino acids in the beta-chain extracellular domain. The deleted transcript originates by an alternatively spliced cassette exon of 147 bp, flanked by two short introns. The delta-Ron tyrosine kinase is constitutively activated by disulfide-linked intracellular oligomerization because it contains an uneven number of cysteine residues. Oligomerization and constitutive tyrosine phosphorylation of the full-size Ron was obtained by site-directed mutagenesis of a single cysteine residue in the region encoded by the cassette exon, mimicking that occurring in the delta-Ron isoform. Inhibition of thiol-mediated intermolecular disulfide bonding prevented delta-Ron oligomerization. The intracellular activation of Ron is followed by acquisition of invasive properties in vitro. These data (i) provide a novel molecular mechanism for posttranscriptional activation of a tyrosine kinase receptor protein and (ii) suggest a role for the Ron receptor in progression toward malignancy.


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