NRAS mutations are a common oncogenic event in skin cancer, occurring frequently in congenital nevi and malignant melanoma. To study the role of NRAS in zebrafish, a transgenic approach was applied to generate fish that express human oncogenic NRAS(Q61K) under the control of the melanocyte-restricted mitfa promoter. By screening the progeny of the injected animals, two strains stably expressing the NRAS transgene were identified: Tg(mitfa:EGFP:NRAS(Q61K))(1) and Tg(mitfa:EGFP:NRAS(Q61K))(2). Stable expression of this transgene results in hyperpigmented fish displaying a complete ablation of the normal pigment pattern. Although oncogenic NRAS expression alone was found to be insufficient to promote tumor formation, loss of functional p53 was found to collaborate with NRAS expression in the genesis of melanoma. The tumors derived from these animals are variably pigmented and closely resemble human melanoma. Underscoring the pathological similarities between these tumors and human disease and suggesting that common pathways are similar in these models and human disease, gene set enrichment analysis performed on microarray data found that the upregulated genes from zebrafish melanomas are highly enriched in human tumor samples. This work characterizes two zebrafish melanoma models that will be useful tools for the study of melanoma pathogenesis.
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