Malignant melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers and its incidence worldwide has been increasing at a greater rate than that of any other cancer. We previously reported that constitutively activated RFP-RET-carrying transgenic mice (RET-mice) spontaneously develop malignant melanoma. In this study, we showed that expression levels of intrinsic c-Ret, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (Gdnf) and Gdnf receptor alpha 1 (Gfra1) transcripts in malignant melanomas from RET-transgenic mice were significantly upregulated compared with those in benign melanocytic tumors. These results suggest that not only introduced oncogenic RET but also intrinsic c-Ret/Gdnf are involved in murine melanomagenesis in RET-mice. We then showed that c-RET and GDNF transcript expression levels in human malignant melanoma cell lines (HM3KO and MNT-1) were higher than those in primary cultured normal human epithelial melanocytes (NHEM), while GFRa1 transcript expression levels were comparable among NHEM, HM3KO and MNT-1. We next showed c-RET and GFRa1 protein expression in HM3KO cells and GDNF-mediated increased levels of their phosphorylated c-RET tyrosine kinase and signal transduction molecules (ERK and AKT) sited potentially downstream of c-RET. Taken together with the finding of augmented proliferation of HM3KO cells after GDNF stimulation, our results suggest that GDNF-mediated c-RET kinase activation is associated with the pathogenesis of malignant melanoma.
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