Elevated phosphorylation and activation of PDK-1/AKT pathway in human breast cancer

Br J Cancer. 2005 Dec 12;93(12):1372-81. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6602862.


Activation of kinases signalling pathways contributes to various malignant phenotypes in human cancers, including breast tumour. To examine the possible activation of these signalling molecules, we examined the phosphorylation status in 12 protein kinases and transcription factors in normal primary human mammary epithelial cells, telomerase-immortalised human breast epithelial cell line, and two breast cancer lines, MDA-MB-468 and MCF-7, using Kinexus phosphorylated protein screening assays. The phosphorylation of FAK, mTOR, p70S6K, and PDK-1 were elevated in both breast cancer cell lines, whereas the phosphorylation of AKT, EGFR, ErbB2/Her2, PDGFR, Shc, and Stat3 were elevated in only one breast cancer line compared to normal primary mammary epithelial cells and telomerase-immortalised breast epithelial cells. The same findings were confirmed by Western blotting and by kinase assays. We further substantiated the phosphorylation status of these molecules in tissue microarray slides containing 89 invasive breast cancer tissues as well as six normal mammary tissues with immunohistochemistry staining using phospho-specific antibodies. Consistent findings were obtained as greater than 70% of invasive breast carcinomas expressed moderate to high levels of phosphorylated PDK-1, AKT, p70S6K, and EGFR. In sharp contrast, phosphorylation of the same proteins was nearly undetectable or was at low levels in normal mammary tissues under the same assay. Elevated phosphorylation of PDK-1, AKT, mTOR, p70S6K, S6, EGFR, and Stat3 were highly associated with invasive breast tumours (P<0.05). Taken together, our results suggest that activation of these kinase pathways by phosphorylation may in part account for molecular pathogenesis of human breast carcinoma. Particularly, moderate to high level of PDK-1 phosphorylation was found in 86% of high-grade metastasised breast tumours. This is the first report demonstrating phosphorylation of PDK-1 is frequently elevated in breast cancer with concomitantly increased phosphorylation of downstream kinases, including AKT, mTOR, p70S6K, S6, and Stat3. This finding thus suggested PDK-1 may promote oncogenesis in part through the activation of AKT and p70S6K and rationalised that PDK-1 as well as downstream components of PDK-1 signalling pathway may be promising therapeutic targets to treat breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3-Phosphoinositide-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Carcinoma / genetics*
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Transcription Factors
  • Protein Kinases
  • 3-Phosphoinositide-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt