RhoGEF specificity mutants implicate RhoA as a target for Dbs transforming activity

Li Cheng, Kent L. Rossman, Gwendolyn M. Mahon, David K. Worthylake, Malgorzata Korus, John Sondek, Ian P. Whitehead

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26 Scopus citations


Dbs is a Rho-specific guanine nucleotide exchange factor (RhoGEF) that exhibits transforming activity when overexpressed in NIH 3T3 mouse fibroblasts. Like many RhoGEFs, the in vitro catalytic activity of Dbs is not limited to a single substrate. It can catalyze the exchange of GDP for GTP on RhoA and Cdc42, both of which are expressed in most cell types. This lack of substrate specificity, which is relatively common among members of the RhoGEF family, complicates efforts to determine the molecular basis of their transforming activity. We have recently determined crystal structures of several RhoGEFs bound to their cognate GTPases and have used these complexes to predict structural determinants dictating the specificities of coupling between RhoGEFs and GTPases. Guided by this information, we mutated Dbs to alter significantly its relative exchange activity for RhoA versus Cdc42 and show that the transformation potential of Dbs correlates with exchange on RhoA but not Cdc42. Supporting this conclusion, oncogenic Dbs activates endogenous RhoA but not endogenous Cdc42 in NIH 3T3 cells. Similarly, a competitive inhibitor that blocks RhoA activation also blocks Dbsmediated transformation. In conclusion, this study highlights the usefulness of specificity mutants of RhoGEFs as tools to genetically dissect the multiple signaling pathways potentially activated by overexpressed or oncogenic RhoGEFs. These ideas are exemplified for Dbs, which is strongly implicated in the transformation of NIH 3T3 cells via RhoA and not Cdc42.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6895-6905
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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