Receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B ligand (RANKL), also known as tumor necrosis factor ligand superfamily member 11 (TNFSF11), TNF-related activation-induced cytokine (TRANCE), osteoprotegerin ligand (OPGL), and osteoclast differentiation factor (ODF), is a protein that in humans is encoded by the TNFSF11gene.
RANKL is a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) cytokine family which is a ligand for osteoprotegerin and functions as a key factor for osteoclast differentiation and activation. RANKL also has a function in the immune system, where it is expressed by T helper cells and is thought to be involved in dendritic cell maturation. This protein was shown to be a dendritic cell survival factor and is involved in the regulation of T cell-dependent immune response. T cell activation was reported to induce expression of this gene and lead to an increase of osteoclastogenesis and bone loss. This protein was shown to activate antiapoptotic kinase AKT/PKB through a signaling complex involving SRC kinase and tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6), which indicated this protein may have a role in the regulation of cell apoptosis.
Targeted disruption of the related gene in mice led to severe osteopetrosis and a lack of osteoclasts. The deficient mice exhibited defects in early differentiation of T and B lymphocytes, and failed to form lobulo-alveolar mammary structures during pregnancy.
Treatment with medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), a synthetic progestin that is used in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. MPA causes a substantial induction of RANKL in mammary-gland epithelial cells while deletion of RANKL decreases the incidence MPA-induced breast cancer. Hence inhibition of RANKL has potential for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
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