Activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway in diffuse large B cell lymphoma: clinical significance and inhibitory effect of rituximab

Ann Hematol. 2013 Oct;92(10):1351-8. doi: 10.1007/s00277-013-1770-9. Epub 2013 May 2.


Diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) represents the most common subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and accounts for approximately 30% of newly diagnosed lymphoid neoplasms in Western countries, and 40-50% in China. A better understanding of the biology of DLBCL is needed for the development of potential therapeutic agents that target specific intracellular pathways. In this study, expression of the important components of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway and their clinical significance were investigated in 73 DLBCL cases. The effect of rituximab alone or combined with the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway inhibitor rapamycin was further evaluated in the DLBCL cell lines. A total of 73 patients were identified, including 45 men and 28 women aged 18 to 78 years (median age 50 years). Of these patients, p-AKT was positive in 40 cases (54.8%), p-p70S6K in 34 cases (46.6%), and p-4E-BP1 in 33 cases (45.2%). Activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway was related to poor disease outcome in DLBCL patients treated with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (CHOP) but not in those treated with rituximab-CHOP. Rituximab combined with rapamycin synergically downregulated the PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway. Western blot analysis revealed a baseline activation status of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway in DLBCL cell lines, with high levels of p-AKT, p-mTOR, in addition to downstream molecules p-p70S6K and p-4E-BP1. The results indicate that the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway is a potentially important signaling route and an unfavorable prognostic factor for DLBCL. Patients with PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation experience a more rapidly deteriorating clinical course with poor treatment response and decreased survival time. Addition of rituximab could downregulate PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation, reversing its negative effect on chemotherapy-treated patients. In addition, our results indicate that the combination of rituximab and inhibition of the activated PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway could be a promising target for DLBCL therapeutic intervention in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / therapeutic use*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / drug therapy*
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / genetics
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Rituximab
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Rituximab
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Sirolimus