The RET gene (rearranged during transfection; Takahashi, Ritz, and Cooper 1985), located on chromosome 10, encodes a receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) belonging to the RET family of RTKs. This gene plays a crucial role in neural crest development. Binding of its ligands, the glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family of extracellular signaling molecules (Airaksinen, Titievsky, and Saarma 1999), induces receptor phosphorylation and activation. Activated RET then phosphorylates its substrates, resulting in activation of multiple downstream cellular pathways (Figure 1; Phay and Shah 2010).
Genomic alterations in RET are found in several different types of cancer. Activating point mutations in RET can give rise to the hereditary cancer syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia 2 (MEN2; Salvatore et al. 2000). Somatic point mutations in RET are also associated with sporadic medullary thyroid cancer (Ciampi and Nikiforov 2007; Salvatore et al. 2000). Oncogenic kinase fusions involving the RET gene are found in ~1% of non-small cell lung cancers (Pao and Hutchinson 2012).
Figure 1. Schematic of the RET signaling pathway. RET activation involves binding of glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF)-family ligands as well as interaction with GFR alpha receptors, resulting in activation of intracellular MAPK and PI3K pathways. The letter "K" within the schema denotes the tyrosine kinase domain.