One of the most frequently deregulated signaling pathways in breast cancer is the PI 3-K/Akt cascade. Genetic lesions are commonly found in PIK3CA, PTEN, and AKT, which lead to excessive and constitutive activation of Akt and downstream signaling that results in uncontrolled proliferation and increased cellular survival. One such genetic lesion is the somatic AKT1(E17K) mutation, which has been identified in 4-8% of breast cancer patients. To determine how this mutation contributes to mammary tumorigenesis, we constructed a genetically engineered mouse model that conditionally expresses human AKT1(E17K) in the mammary epithelium. Although AKT1(E17K) is only weakly constitutively active and does not promote proliferation in vitro, it is capable of escaping negative feedback inhibition to exhibit sustained signaling dynamics in vitro. Consistently, both virgin and multiparous AKT1(E17K) mice develop mammary gland hyperplasia that do not progress to carcinoma. This hyperplasia is accompanied by increased estrogen receptor expression, although exposure of the mice to estrogen does not promote tumor development. Moreover, AKT1(E17K) prevents HER2-driven mammary tumor formation, in part through negative feedback inhibition of RTK signaling. Analysis of TCGA breast cancer data revealed that the mRNA expression, total protein levels, and phosphorylation of various RTKs are decreased in human tumors harboring AKT1(E17K).
Keywords: Akt; HER2; PI 3-kinase; breast cancer; estrogen receptor.