Many members of the Ras superfamily of GTPases have been implicated in the regulation of hematopoietic cells, with roles in growth, survival, differentiation, cytokine production, chemotaxis, vesicle-trafficking, and phagocytosis. The well-known p21
Ras proteins H-Ras, N-Ras, K-Ras 4A, and K-Ras 4B are also frequently mutated in human cancer and leukemia. Besides the four p21
Ras proteins, the Ras subfamily of the Ras superfamily includes R-Ras, TC21 (R-Ras2), M-Ras (R-Ras3), Rap1A, Rap1B, Rap2A, Rap2B, RalA, and RalB. They exhibit remarkable overall amino acid identities, especially in the regions interacting with the guanine nucleotide exchange factors that catalyze their activation. In addition, there is considerable sharing of various downstream effectors through which they transmit signals and of GTPase activating proteins that downregulate their activity, resulting in overlap in their regulation and effector function. Relatively little is known about the physiological functions of individual Ras family members, although the presence of well-conserved orthologs in Caenorhabditis elegans suggests that their individual roles are both specific and vital. The structural and functional similarities have meant that commonly used research tools fail to discriminate between the different family members, and functions previously attributed to one family member may be shared with other members of the Ras family. Here we discuss similarities and differences in activation, effector usage, and functions of different members of the Ras subfamily. We also review the possibility that the differential localization of Ras proteins in different parts of the cell membrane may govern their responses to activation of cell surface receptors.