Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer, and the incidence and mortality rates are rapidly rising. Epidemiologically, high numbers of nevi (moles) are associated with higher risk of melanoma . The majority of melanomas exhibit activating mutations in the serine/threonine kinase BRAF . BRAF mutations may be critical for the initiation of melanoma ; however, the direct role of BRAF in nevi and melanoma has not been tested in an animal model. To directly test the role of activated BRAF in nevus and melanoma development, we have generated transgenic zebrafish expressing the most common BRAF mutant form (V600E) under the control of the melanocyte mitfa promoter. Expression of mutant, but not wild-type, BRAF led to dramatic patches of ectopic melanocytes, which we have termed fish (f)-nevi. Remarkably, in p53-deficient fish, activated BRAF induced formation of melanocyte lesions that rapidly developed into invasive melanomas, which resembled human melanomas and could be serially transplanted. These data provide direct evidence that BRAF activation is sufficient for f-nevus formation, that BRAF activation is among the primary events in melanoma development, and that the p53 and BRAF pathways interact genetically to produce melanoma.
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