The von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor gene and kidney cancer.
The von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor gene (VHL), which resides on chromosome 3p25, is mutated or silenced in >50% of sporadic clear cell renal cell carcinomas. Germ-line VHL mutations give rise to VHL disease, which is characterized by an increased risk of blood vessel tumors (hemangioblastomas) and renal cell carcinomas. In this setting, VHL inactivation gives rise to premalignant renal cysts. Additional genetic alterations are presumably required for conversion of these cysts to renal cell carcinomas. Restoration of VHL function in VHL-/- renal cell carcinomas is sufficient to inhibit tumorigenesis in vivo. On the basis of these and other data, VHL appears to be a critical gatekeeper with respect to the development of renal cell carcinoma. The VHL gene product, pVHL, is the substrate recognition module of an E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) for destruction in the presence of oxygen. Hypoxic cells, or cells lacking pVHL, accumulate high levels of HIF, which activates the transcription of a variety of genes, including vascular endothelial growth factor, platelet-derived growth factor B, and transforming growth factor alpha. We have demonstrated that inhibition of HIF is necessary and sufficient for tumor suppression by pVHL in renal cell carcinoma nude mouse xenograft assays. This provides a rationale for treating VHL-/- renal cell carcinoma with inhibitors of HIF or its downstream targets. Genotype-phenotype correlations in VHL disease suggest, however, that pVHL has targets in addition to HIF. Elucidating these targets should provide a more complete picture of how pVHL suppresses tumor growth.
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