Activation of the serine/threonine kinase AKT is common in pancreatic cancer; inhibition of which sensitises cells to the apoptotic effect of chemotherapy. Of the various downstream targets of AKT, we examined activation of the NF-kappaB transcription factor and subsequent transcriptional regulation of BCL-2 gene family in pancreatic cancer cells. Inhibition of either phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase or AKT led to a decreased protein level of the antiapoptotic gene BCL-2 and an increased protein level of the proapoptotic gene BAX. Furthermore, inhibition of AKT decreased the function of NF-kappaB, which is capable of transcriptional regulation of the BCL-2 gene. Inhibiting this pathway had little effect on the basal level of apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells, but increased the apoptotic effect of chemotherapy. The antiapoptotic effect of AKT activation in pancreatic cancer cells may involve transcriptional induction of a profile of BCL-2 proteins that confer resistance to apoptosis; alteration of this balance allows sensitisation to the apoptotic effect of chemotherapy.