The rapidly accelerated fibrosarcoma (Raf) kinase is canonically activated by growth factors that regulate multiple cellular processes. In this kinase cascade Raf activation ultimately results in extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (Erk1/2) activation, which requires Ras binding to the Ras binding domain (RBD) of Raf. We recently reported that all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) rapidly (within minutes) activates Erk1/2 to modulate cell cycle progression in stem cells, which is mediated by cellular retinoic acid binding protein 1 (Crabp1). But how atRA-bound Crabp1 regulated Erk1/2 activity remained unclear. We now report Raf kinase as the direct target of atRA-Crabp1. Molecularly, Crabp1 acts as a novel atRA-inducible scaffold protein for Raf/Mek/Erk in cells without growth factor stimulation. However, Crabp1 can also compete with Ras for direct interaction with the RBD of Raf, thereby negatively modulating growth factor-stimulated Raf activation, which can be enhanced by atRA binding to Crabp1. NMR heteronuclear single quantum coherence (HSQC) analyses reveal the 6-strand β-sheet face of Crabp1 as its Raf-interaction surface. We identify a new atRA-mimicking and Crabp1-selective compound, C3, that can also elicit such an activity. This study uncovers a new signal crosstalk between endocrine (atRA-Crabp1) and growth factor (Ras-Raf) pathways, providing evidence for atRA-Crabp1 as a novel modulator of cell growth. The study also suggests a new therapeutic strategy by employing Crabp1-selective compounds to dampen growth factor stimulation while circumventing RAR-mediated retinoid toxicity.
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