The HIV protease inhibitor nelfinavir downregulates Akt phosphorylation by inhibiting proteasomal activity and inducing the unfolded protein response

Neoplasia. 2007 Apr;9(4):271-8. doi: 10.1593/neo.07124.


HIV protease inhibitors (HPIs), which have been used to treat HIV patients since the mid 1990s, have been shown to downregulate the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-Akt pathway. Because this pathway is frequently activated in human malignancies and associated with resistance to ionizing radiation, we investigated and confirmed that HPIs could radiosensitize cells. However, the mechanism underlying this downregulation was unclear, prompting the investigations in this report. In this paper we show that nelfinavir inhibits proteasome activity. Inhibition of the proteasome leads to endoplasmic reticulum-based stress with accumulation of misfolded proteins, which triggers the unfolded protein response (UPR). As part of the UPR, the alpha subunit of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 (eIF2alpha) is phosphorylated, resulting in a decrease in global protein synthesis and induction of the feedback regulator growth arrest and DNA damage-inducible protein (GADD34), which acts as a phosphatase in complex with protein phosphatase 1. This complex dephosphorylates eIF2alpha; however, our data also suggest that this phosphatase activity can dephosphorylate Akt. Furthermore, our data indicate that nelfinavir decreases Akt phosphorylation by triggering this response. These findings may have important implications in understanding how nelfinavir may increase radiation sensitivity and also result in downregulation of the PI3K/Akt pathway.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects*
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Nelfinavir / pharmacology*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Proteasome Inhibitors*
  • Protein Denaturation / drug effects
  • Protein Denaturation / physiology
  • Protein Folding
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*


  • HIV Protease Inhibitors
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Nelfinavir