3D view to tumor suppression: Lkb1, polarity and the arrest of oncogenic c-Myc

Cell Cycle. 2009 Mar 1;8(5):716-24. doi: 10.4161/cc.8.5.7786. Epub 2009 Mar 7.


Machiavelli wrote, in his famous political treatise Il Principe, about disrupting organization by planting seeds of dissension or by eliminating necessary support elements. Tumor cells do exactly that by disrupting the organized architecture of epithelial cell layers during progression from contained benign tumor to full-blown invasive cancer. However, it is still unclear whether tumor cells primarily break free by activating oncogenes powerful enough to cause chaos or by eliminating tumor suppressor genes guarding the order of the epithelial organization. Studies in Drosophila have exposed genes that encode key regulators of the epithelial apicobasal polarity and which, upon inactivation, cause disorganization of the epithelial layers and promote unscheduled cell proliferation. These polarity regulator/tumor suppressor proteins, which include products of neoplastic tumor suppressor genes (nTSGs), are carefully positioned in polarized epithelial cells to maintain the order of epithelial structures and to impose a restraint on cell proliferation. In this review, we have explored the presence and prevalence of somatic mutations in the human counterparts of Drosophila polarity regulator/tumor suppressor genes across the human cancers. The screen points out LKB1, which is a causal genetic lesion in Peutz-Jeghers cancer syndrome, a gene mutated in certain sporadic cancers and a human homologue of the fly polarity gene par-4. We review the evidence linking Lkb1 protein to polarity regulation in the scope of our recent results suggesting a coupled role for Lkb1 as an architect of organized acinar structures and a suppressor of oncogenic c-Myc. We finally present models to explain how Lkb1-dependent formation of epithelial architecture is coupled to suppression of normal and oncogene-induced proliferation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Polarity
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor*
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3
  • Humans
  • Oncogenes
  • Protein Kinases / genetics*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / metabolism


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Protein Kinases
  • STK11 protein, human
  • LKB1 protein, Drosophila
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3
  • Par-1 protein, Drosophila