RAS proteins are small GTPases that transduce signals from membrane receptors to signaling pathways that regulate growth and differentiation. Four RAS proteins are encoded by three genes — HRAS, KRAS, NRAS. Among them, KRAS is mutated in human cancer more frequently than any other oncogene. The KRAS pre-mRNA is alternatively spliced to generate two transcripts, KRAS4A and KRAS4B, that encode distinct proto-oncoproteins that differ almost exclusively in their C-terminal hypervariable regions (HVRs) that controls subcellular trafficking and membrane association. The KRAS4A isoform arose 475 million years ago in jawed vertebrates and has persisted in all vertebrates ever since, strongly suggesting non-overlapping functions of the splice variants. Because KRAS4B is expressed at higher levels in most tissues, it has been considered the principal KRAS isoform. However, emerging evidence for KRAS4A expression in tumors and splice variant–specific interactions and functions have sparked interest in this gene product. Among these findings, the KRAS4A-specific regulation of hexokinase I is a stark example. The aim of this mini-review is to provide an overview of the origin and differential functions of the two splice variants of KRAS.

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