Requirement for the PI3K/Akt pathway in MEK1-mediated growth and prevention of apoptosis: identification of an Achilles heel in leukemia

Leukemia. 2003 Jun;17(6):1058-67. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2402925.


The Raf/MEK/ERK kinase cascade plays a critical role in transducing growth signals from activated cell surface receptors. Using DeltaMEK1:ER, a conditionally active form of MEK1 which responds to either beta-estradiol or the estrogen receptor antagonist 4 hydroxy-tamoxifen (4HT), we previously documented the ability of this dual specificity protein kinase to abrogate the cytokine-dependency of human (TF-1) and murine (FDC-P1 and FL5.12) hematopoietic cells lines. Here we demonstrate the ability of DeltaMEK1:ER to activate the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/p70 ribosomal S6 kinase (p70(S6K)) pathway and the importance of this pathway in MEK1-mediated prevention of apoptosis. MEK1-responsive cells can be maintained long term in the presence of beta-estradiol, 4HT or IL-3. Removal of hormone led to the rapid cessation of cell proliferation and the induction of apoptosis in a manner similar to cytokine deprivation of the parental cells. Stimulation of DeltaMEK1:ER by 4HT resulted in ERK, PI3K, Akt and p70(S6K) activation. Treatment with PI3K, Akt and p70(S6K) inhibitors prevented MEK-responsive growth. Furthermore, the apoptotic effects of PI3K/Akt/p70(S6K) inhibitors could be enhanced by cotreatment with MEK inhibitors. Use of a PI3K inhibitor and a constitutively active form of Akt, [DeltaAkt(Myr(+))], indicated that activation of PI3K was necessary for MEK1-responsive growth and survival as activation of Akt alone was unable to compensate for the loss of PI3K activity. Cells transduced by MEK or MEK+Akt displayed different sensitivities to signal transduction inhibitors, which targeted these pathways. These results indicate a requirement for the activation of the PI3K pathway during MEK-mediated transformation of certain hematopoietic cells. These experiments provide important clues as to why the identification of mutant signaling pathways may be the Achilles heel of leukemic cell growth. Leukemia treatment targeting multiple signal transduction pathways may be more efficacious than therapy aimed at inhibiting a single pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-3 / pharmacology*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / drug therapy
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / metabolism*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / pathology
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / pharmacology*
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-raf / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Retroviridae
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Interleukin-3
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-raf
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1
  • MAP2K1 protein, human
  • Map2k1 protein, mouse
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases