Ras isoform-specific expression, chromatin accessibility, and signaling

Ruth Nussinov*, Mingzhen Zhang, Ryan Maloney, Hyunbum Jang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The anchorage of Ras isoforms in the membrane and their nanocluster formations have been studied extensively, including their detailed interactions, sizes, preferred membrane environments, chemistry, and geometry. However, the staggering challenge of their epigenetics and chromatin accessibility in distinct cell states and types, which we propose is a major factor determining their specific expression, still awaits unraveling. Ras isoforms are distinguished by their C-terminal hypervariable region (HVR) which acts in intracellular transport, regulation, and membrane anchorage. Here, we review some isoform-specific activities at the plasma membrane from a structural dynamic standpoint. Inspired by physics and chemistry, we recognize that understanding functional specificity requires insight into how biomolecules can organize themselves in different cellular environments. Within this framework, we suggest that isoform-specific expression may largely be controlled by the chromatin density and physical compaction, which allow (or curb) access to “chromatinized DNA.” Genes are preferentially expressed in tissues: proteins expressed in pancreatic cells may not be equally expressed in lung cells. It is the rule—not an exception, and it can be at least partly understood in terms of chromatin organization and accessibility state. Genes are expressed when they can be sufficiently exposed to the transcription machinery, and they are less so when they are persistently buried in dense chromatin. Notably, chromatin accessibility can similarly determine expression of drug resistance genes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-505
Number of pages17
JournalBiophysical Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Gene accessibility
  • HRAS
  • Inhibitor
  • K-RAS4A
  • K-RAS4B
  • KRAS
  • NRAS
  • Signaling


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