The pan-PI3K inhibitors are one treatment option for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). However, this treatment is ineffective for unknown reasons. Here, we report that aberrant expression of wingless-type MMTV integration site family (WNT) and activated WNT signals, which crosstalk with the PI3K-AKT-mTOR signaling pathway through GSK3β, plays the most critical role in resistance to pan-PI3K inhibitors in TNBC cells. GDC-0941 is a pan-PI3K inhibitor that activates the WNT/beta-catenin pathway in TNBC cells through stimulation of WNT secretion. GDC-0941-triggered WNT/beta-catenin pathway activation was observed in MDA-MB-231 and HCC1937 cells, which are TNBC cell lines showing aberrant WNT/beta-catenin activation, and not in SKBR3 and MCF7 cells. This observation is further investigated in vivo. GDC-0941 exhibited minimal tumor inhibition in MDA-MB-231 cells, but it significantly suppressed tumor growth in HER-positive SK-BR3 cells. In vivo mechanism study revealed the activation of WNT/beta-catenin pathway by GDC-0941. A synergistic effect was observed when combined treatment with GDC-0941 and the WNT inhibitor LGK974 at low concentrations in MDA-MB-231 cells. These findings indicated that WNT pathway activation conferred resistance in TNBC cells treated with GDC-0941. This resistance may be further circumvented through combined treatment with pan-PI3K and WNT inhibitors. Future clinical trials of these two inhibitors are warranted.
Keywords: PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway; WNT/beta-catenin pathway; drug resistance; pan-PI3K inhibitor; triple-negative breast cancer.