The Rho Exchange Factors Vav2 and Vav3 Favor Skin Tumor Initiation and Promotion by Engaging Extracellular Signaling Loops


The catalytic activity of GDP/GTP exchange factors (GEFs) is considered critical to maintain the typically high activity of Rho GTPases found in cancer cells. However, the large number of them has made it difficult to pinpoint those playing proactive, nonredundant roles in tumors. In this work, we have investigated whether GEFs of the Vav subfamily exert such specific roles in skin cancer. Using genetically engineered mice, we show here that Vav2 and Vav3 favor cooperatively the initiation and promotion phases of skin tumors. Transcriptomal profiling and signaling experiments indicate such function is linked to the engagement of, and subsequent participation in, keratinocyte-based autocrine/paracrine programs that promote epidermal proliferation and recruitment of pro-inflammatory cells. This is a pathology-restricted mechanism because the loss of Vav proteins does not cause alterations in epidermal homeostasis. These results reveal a previously unknown Rho GEF-dependent pro-tumorigenic mechanism that influences the biology of cancer cells and their microenvironment. They also suggest that anti-Vav therapies may be of potential interest in skin tumor prevention and/or treatment.

GDP/GTP exchange factors (GEFs) involved in Rho GTPase activation have been traditionally considered as potential anticancer drug targets. However, little is known about the best GEFs to inhibit in different tumor types, the pro-tumorigenic programs that they regulate, and the collateral effects that inactivation may induce in healthy tissues. Here, we investigate this issue in HRas-dependent skin tumors using genetic techniques. Despite the large number of Rho GEFs present in both normal and tumoral epidermis, we demonstrate that the co-expression of the exchange factors Vav2 and Vav3 is critical for the development of this tumor type. We also identify a previously unknown Vav-dependent autocrine/paracrine program that favors keratinocyte survival/proliferation and the formation of an inflammatory state during the initiation and promotion phases of this tumor. Finally, our results indicate that inactivation of Vav proteins is innocuous for the homeostasis of normal epidermis. Taken together, these results imply that Vav protein-based therapies may be of interest for skin tumor prevention and/or treatment.