A mutated KRAS protein is frequently observed in human cancers. Traditionally, the oncogenic properties of KRAS missense mutants at position 12 (G12X) have been considered as equal. Here, by assessing the probabilities of occurrence of all KRAS G12X mutations and KRAS dynamics we show that this assumption does not hold true. Instead, our findings revealed an outstanding mutational bias. We conducted a thorough mutational analysis of KRAS G12X mutations and assessed to what extent the observed mutation frequencies follow a random distribution. Unique tissue-specific frequencies are displayed with specific mutations, especially with G12R, which cannot be explained by random probabilities. To clarify the underlying causes for the nonrandom probabilities, we conducted extensive atomistic molecular dynamics simulations (170 μs) to study the differences of G12X mutations on a molecular level. The simulations revealed an allosteric hydrophobic signaling network in KRAS, and that protein dynamics is altered among the G12X mutants and as such differs from the wild-type and is mutation-specific. The shift in long-timescale conformational dynamics was confirmed with Markov state modeling. A G12X mutation was found to modify KRAS dynamics in an allosteric way, which is especially manifested in the switch regions that are responsible for the effector protein binding. The findings provide a basis to understand better the oncogenic properties of KRAS G12X mutants and the consequences of the observed nonrandom frequencies of specific G12X mutations.
The oncogene KRAS is frequently mutated in various cancers. When the amino acid glycine 12 is mutated, KRAS protein acquires oncogenic properties that result in tumor cell-growth and cancer progression. These mutations prevail especially in the pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which is a cancer with an exceptionally dismal prognosis. To date, there is a limited understanding of the different mutations at the position 12, also regarding whether the different mutations would have different consequences. These discrepancies could have major implications for the future drug therapies targeting KRAS mutant harboring tumors. In this study, we made a critical assessment of the observed frequency of KRAS G12X mutations and the underlying causes for these frequencies. We also assessed KRAS G12X mutant discrepancies on an atomistic level by utilizing state-of-the-art molecular dynamics simulations. We found that the dynamics of the mutants does not only differ from the wild-type protein, but there is also a profound difference among the different mutants. These results emphasize that the different KRAS G12X mutations are not equal, and thereby they suggest that the future research related to mutant KRAS biology should account for these observations.