Because mutations in RAS and BRAF represent the most common mutations found in human tumors, identification of inhibitors has been a major goal. Surprisingly, new oncogenic BRAF specific inhibitors inhibit cells transformed with mutated BRAF but paradoxically stimulate the growth of cells transformed with RAS. Here, we show that the mechanism for activation is via drug-induced dimer formation between CRAF and kinase suppressor of Ras (KSR)1. To understand the function of KSR1, we generated a KSR1 mutant that cannot bind ATP but stabilizes the closed, active conformation of KSR1. Molecular modeling suggested that the mutant stabilizes the two hydrophobic spines critical for the closed active conformation. We, therefore, could use the mutant to discriminate between the scaffold versus kinase functions of KSR1. The KSR1 mutant bound constitutively to RAF and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) but could not reconstitute activity suggesting that the catalytic activity of KSR1 is required for its function. Analogous mutations in BRAF and CRAF allowed us to test the generality of the model. The mutation induced changes consistent with the active, closed conformation of both kinases and confirmed that BRAF functions distinctly from CRAF in the MAP kinase pathway. Not only does this work suggest that KSR1 may function as a kinase, we anticipate that the mutation that we generated may be broadly applicable to stabilize the closed conformation of other kinases many of which may also form dimers.
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