Successful targeting of specific oncogenic "driver" mutations with small-molecule inhibitors has represented a major advance in cancer therapeutics over the past 10 to 15 years. The most common activating oncogene in human malignancy, RAS (rat sarcoma), has proved to be an elusive target. Activating mutations in RAS induce mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and phosphoinositide 3-kinase-AKT pathway signaling and drive malignant progression in up to 30% of cancers. Oncogenic NRAS mutations occur in several cancer types, notably melanoma, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), and less commonly, colon adenocarcinoma, thyroid carcinoma, and other hematologic malignancies. Although NRAS-mutant tumors have been recalcitrant to targeted therapeutic strategies historically, newer agents targeting MAP/ERK kinase 1 (MEK1)/2 have recently shown signs of clinical efficacy as monotherapy. Combination strategies of MEK inhibitors with other targeted agents have strong preclinical support and are being evaluated in clinical trials. This review discusses the recent preclinical and clinical studies about the role of NRAS in cancer, with a focus on melanoma and AML.
©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.