AKT induces senescence in human cells via mTORC1 and p53 in the absence of DNA damage: implications for targeting mTOR during malignancy

Oncogene. 2012 Apr 12;31(15):1949-62. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.394. Epub 2011 Sep 12.


The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT and RAS oncogenic signalling modules are frequently mutated in sporadic human cancer. Although each of these pathways has been shown to play critical roles in driving tumour growth and proliferation, their activation in normal human cells can also promote cell senescence. Although the mechanisms mediating RAS-induced senescence have been well characterised, those controlling PI3K/AKT-induced senescence are poorly understood. Here we show that PI3K/AKT pathway activation in response to phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) knockdown, mutant PI3K, catalytic, α polypeptide (PIK3CA) or activated AKT expression, promotes accumulation of p53 and p21, increases cell size and induces senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity. We demonstrate that AKT-induced senescence is p53-dependent and is characterised by mTORC1-dependent regulation of p53 translation and stabilisation of p53 protein following nucleolar localisation and inactivation of MDM2. The underlying mechanisms of RAS and AKT-induced senescence appear to be distinct, demonstrating that different mediators of senescence may be deregulated during transformation by specific oncogenes. Unlike RAS, AKT promotes rapid proliferative arrest in the absence of a hyperproliferative phase or DNA damage, indicating that inactivation of the senescence response is critical at the early stages of PI3K/AKT-driven tumourigenesis. Furthermore, our data imply that chronic activation of AKT signalling provides selective pressure for the loss of p53 function, consistent with observations that PTEN or PIK3CA mutations are significantly associated with p53 mutation in a number of human tumour types. Importantly, the demonstration that mTORC1 is an essential mediator of AKT-induced senescence raises the possibility that targeting mTORC1 in tumours with activated PI3K/AKT signalling may exert unexpected detrimental effects due to inactivation of a senescence brake on potential cancer-initiating cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • DNA Damage
  • Fibroblasts
  • Humans
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • PSMF1 protein, human
  • Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • MDM2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex