Activation of WNT/β-catenin signaling results in resistance to a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor in colorectal cancer cells harboring PIK3CA mutations

Int J Cancer. 2019 Jan 15;144(2):389-401. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31662. Epub 2018 Nov 29.


PIK3CA is a frequently mutated gene in cancer, including about ~15 to 20% of colorectal cancers (CRC). PIK3CA mutations lead to activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway, which plays pivotal roles in tumorigenesis. Here, we investigated the mechanism of resistance of PIK3CA-mutant CRC cell lines to gedatolisib, a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor. Out of a panel of 29 CRC cell lines, we identified 7 harboring one or more PIK3CA mutations; of these, 5 and 2 were found to be sensitive and resistant to gedatolisib, respectively. Both of the gedatolisib-resistant cell lines expressed high levels of active glycogen synthase kinase 3-beta (GSK3β) and harbored the same frameshift mutation (c.465_466insC; H155fs*) in TCF7, which encodes a positive transcriptional regulator of the WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway. Inhibition of GSK3β activity in gedatolisib-resistant cells by siRNA-mediated knockdown or treatment with a GSK3β-specific inhibitor effectively reduced the activity of molecules downstream of mTOR and also decreased signaling through the WNT/β-catenin pathway. Notably, GSK3β inhibition rendered the resistant cell lines sensitive to gedatolisib cytotoxicity, both in vitro and in a mouse xenograft model. Taken together, these data demonstrate that aberrant regulation of WNT/β-catenin signaling and active GSK3β induced by the TCF7 frameshift mutation cause resistance to the dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor gedatolisib. Cotreatment with GSK3β inhibitors may be a strategy to overcome the resistance of PIK3CA- and TCF7-mutant CRC to PI3K/mTOR-targeted therapies.

Keywords: GSK3β; PI3K/mTOR dual inhibitor; TCF7 frameshift mutation; WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway; colorectal cancer; organoids; patient-derived colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Morpholines / pharmacology*
  • Mutation
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Triazines / pharmacology*
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / physiology*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Morpholines
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Triazines
  • gedatolisib
  • MTOR protein, human
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIK3CA protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases