Purpose of review: The purpose of this review is to examine the contribution of the PI3K signaling pathway to the development of human tumors and to propose further studies to elucidate how to develop therapeutics for patients with mutations in this pathway.
Recent findings: More than 30% of various solid tumor types were recently found to contain mutations in PIK3CA, the catalytic subunit of PI3K. Further analysis of key genes in this pathway identified an additional eight genes altered in tumors. These were generally found to be mutated in a mutually exclusive manner, thus increasing the mutation frequency of the pathway to 40% in colorectal cancers and emphasizing the importance of the PI3K pathway in tumorigenesis. Functional analyses of PIK3CA mutations revealed that they increase its enzymatic activity, stimulate AKT signaling, allow growth factor-independent growth as well as increasing cell invasion and metastasis.
Summary: The PI3K signaling pathway is dysregulated by a variety of mechanisms in a large fraction of human tumors. Both mutational and functional analyses have shown that PIK3CA is an oncogene that plays an important role in tumor progression. Mutant members of the PI3K pathway, including PIK3CA, are good targets for therapeutic intervention because most of them are kinases, making them attractive for drug development. Gaining further insights into PIK3CA oncogenic mechanisms may produce new biomarkers and help the development of targeted therapeutics.