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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2002 Jan 15;397(2):232-9.

Copper ions strongly activate the phosphoinositide-3-kinase/Akt pathway independent of the generation of reactive oxygen species.

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Klinik für Gastroenterologie, Hepatologie, und Infektionsbiologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Copper is implicated in metabolic disorders, such as Wilson's disease or Alzheimer's disease. Analysis of signaling pathways regulating cellular survival and function in response to a copper stress is crucial for understanding the pathogenesis of such diseases. Exposure of human skin fibroblasts or HeLa cells to Cu(2+) resulted in a dose- and time-dependent activation of the antiapoptotic kinase Akt/protein kinase B, starting at concentrations as low as 3 microM. Only Cu(II), but not Cu(I), had this effect. Activation of Akt was accompanied by phosphorylation of a downstream target of Akt, glycogen synthase kinase-3. Inhibitors of phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) completely blocked activation of Akt by Cu(2+), indicating a requirement of PI3K for Cu(2+)-induced activation of Akt. Indeed, cellular PI3K activity was strongly enhanced after exposure to Cu(2+). Copper ions may lead to the formation of reactive oxygen species, such as hydrogen peroxide. Activation of Akt by hydrogen peroxide or growth factors is known to proceed via the activation growth factor receptors. In line with this, pretreatment with inhibitors of growth factor receptor tyrosine kinases blocked activation of Akt by hydrogen peroxide and growth factors, as did a src-family tyrosine kinase inhibitor or the broad-spectrum tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein. Activation of Akt by Cu(2+), however, remained unimpaired, implying (i) that tyrosine kinase activation is not involved in Cu(2+) activation of Akt and (ii) that activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway by Cu(2+) is initiated independently of that induced by reactive oxygen species. Comparison of the time course of the oxidation of 2',7'-dichlorodihydrofluorescein in copper-treated cells with that of Akt activation led to the conclusion that production of hydroperoxides cannot be an upstream event in copper-induced Akt activation. Rather, both activation of Akt and generation of ROS are proposed to occur in parallel, regulating cell survival after a copper stress.

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