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Mol Cancer Ther. 2002 Sep;1(11):913-22.

Inhibition of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-Akt signaling blocks growth, promotes apoptosis, and enhances sensitivity of small cell lung cancer cells to chemotherapy.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, USA.


A promising therapeutic alternative to inhibition of growth factor receptors is the inhibition of downstream signal transduction pathways. Such an approach may be especially important in tumors that can use signals from multiple growth factor receptors for growth and survival. Both stem cell factor (SCF) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I, components of prominent small cell lung cancer (SCLC) autocrine loops, as well as FCS, can potently activate phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-Akt signaling, albeit with different kinetics. SCF-induced PI3K-Akt activation occurs rapidly but fades within 60 min; IGF-I and FCS-induced activation persists for at least 6 h. SCF and IGF-I-mediated growth was potently inhibited by LY294002 in proportion to its ability to inhibit phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-Akt signaling. A panel of six SCLC cell lines grown in 10% FCS was also very sensitive to LY294002, with average IC50 and LD50 of 5 and 25 microM, respectively. These drug concentrations suppressed the growth of the MRC-5 pulmonary fibroblast cell line and primary bronchial epithelial cells but did not induce significant cell death. Because LY294002 can also inhibit PI3K-related enzymes, we confirmed the role of the PI3K-Akt pathway in SCLC using doxycycline-regulated expression of a dominant-negative (kinase dead) and a constitutively active (CA; myristolated) Akt allele. Expression of dominant-negative Akt, which could only be achieved at relatively low levels, completely inhibited growth in the absence of exogenous growth factors and inhibited SCF-mediated growth but had no effect on IGF-I-mediated growth at the expression levels attained. Expression of CA Akt markedly augmented growth in the absence of exogenous growth factors but had minimal effect on growth in the presence of saturating concentrations SCF or IGF-I. Because PI3K-Akt signaling is known to promote survival under apoptotic stresses, we determined the effect of this pathway on SCLC sensitivity to etoposide. LY294002 potentiated the effect of low concentrations of etoposide in inhibiting growth and inducing apoptosis. The effect of low concentrations of LY294002 could largely be reversed by expression of CA Akt, suggesting that it was mediated by inhibition of Akt signaling. Expression of CA Akt by itself also induced resistance to etoposide-mediated apoptosis. Taken together, these data demonstrate that PI3K-Akt signaling promotes SCLC growth, survival, and chemotherapy resistance. Therefore, selective inhibitors of PI3K or Akt could potentially be useful as novel therapeutic agents in the treatment of SCLC.

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