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Mol Cell Biol. 2007 Jun;27(12):4328-39. Epub 2007 Mar 19.

Glycogen synthase kinase 3alpha and 3beta mediate a glucose-sensitive antiapoptotic signaling pathway to stabilize Mcl-1.

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Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, DUMC Box 3813, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Glucose uptake and utilization are growth factor-stimulated processes that are frequently upregulated in cancer cells and that correlate with enhanced cell survival. The mechanism of metabolic protection from apoptosis, however, has been unclear. Here we identify a novel signaling pathway initiated by glucose catabolism that inhibited apoptotic death of growth factor-deprived cells. We show that increased glucose metabolism protected cells against the proapoptotic Bcl-2 family protein Bim and attenuated degradation of the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family protein Mcl-1. Maintenance of Mcl-1 was critical for this protection, as glucose metabolism failed to protect Mcl-1-deficient cells from apoptosis. Increased glucose metabolism stabilized Mcl-1 in both cell lines and primary lymphocytes via inhibitory phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase 3alpha and 3beta (GSK-3alpha/beta), which otherwise promoted Mcl-1 degradation. While a number of kinases can phosphorylate and inhibit GSK-3alpha/beta, we provide evidence that protein kinase C may be stimulated by glucose-induced alterations in diacylglycerol levels or distribution to phosphorylate GSK-3alpha/beta, maintain Mcl-1 levels, and inhibit cell death. These data provide a novel nutrient-sensitive mechanism linking glucose metabolism and Bcl-2 family proteins via GSK-3 that may promote survival of cells with high rates of glucose utilization, such as growth factor-stimulated or cancerous cells.

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