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Breast Cancer Res. 2009;11(1):R2. doi: 10.1186/bcr2217. Epub 2009 Jan 8.

Phosphoinositide 3-kinase targeting by the beta galactoside binding protein cytokine negates akt gene expression and leads aggressive breast cancer cells to apoptotic death.

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Cell Signalling and Growth Laboratory, School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, King's College London, 150 Stamford Street, London, UK.



Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)-activated signalling has a critical role in the evolution of aggressive tumourigenesis and is therefore a prime target for anticancer therapy. Previously we have shown that the beta galactoside binding protein (betaGBP) cytokine, an antiproliferative molecule, induces functional inhibition of class 1A and class 1B PI3K. Here, we have investigated whether, by targeting PI3K, betaGBP has therapeutic efficacy in aggressive breast cancer cells where strong mitogenic input is fuelled by overexpression of the ErbB2 (also known as HER/neu, for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) oncoprotein receptor and have used immortalised ductal cells and non-aggressive mammary cancer cells, which express ErbB2 at low levels, as controls.


Aggressive BT474 and SKBR3 cancer cells where ErbB2 is overexpressed, MCF10A immortalised ductal cells and non-invasive MCF-7 cancer cells which express low levels of ErbB2, both in their naive state and when forced to mimic aggressive behaviour, were used. Class IA PI3K was immunoprecipitated and the conversion of phosphatidylinositol (4,5)-biphosphate (PIP2) to phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-trisphosphate (PIP3) assessed by ELISA. The consequences of PI3K inhibition by betaGBP were analysed at proliferation level, by extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation, by akt gene expression and by apoptosis. Apoptosis was documented by changes in mitochondrial membrane potential, alteration of the plasma membrane, caspase 3 activation and DNA fragmentation. Phosphorylated and total ERK were measured by Western blot analysis and akt mRNA levels by Northern blot analysis. The results obtained with the BT474 and SKBR3 cells were validated in the MCF10A ductal cells and in non-invasive MCF-7 breast cancer cells forced into mimicking the in vitro behaviour of the BT474 and SKBR3 cells.


In aggressive breast cancer cells, where mitogenic signalling is enforced by the ErbB2 oncoprotein receptor, functional inhibition of the catalytic activity of PI3K by the betaGBP cytokine and loss of akt mRNA results in apoptotic death. A functional correlation between ERK and the kt gene was also found. The relationship between ERK, akt mRNA, PI3K and cell vulnerability to betaGBP challenge was sustained both in mammary ductal cells forced to mimic an aggressive behaviour and in non-aggressive breast cancer cells undergoing an enforced shift into an aggressive phenotype.


betaGBP, a newly discovered physiological inhibitor of PI3K, is a selective and potent inducer of apoptosis in aggressive breast cancer cells. Due to its physiological nature, which carries no chemotherapeutic disadvantages, betaGBP has the potential to be safely tested in clinical trials.

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