Synergistic growth inhibition mediated by dual PI3K/mTOR pathway targeting and genetic or direct pharmacological AKT inhibition in human glioblastoma models

J Neurochem. 2020 May;153(4):510-524. doi: 10.1111/jnc.14899. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Molecular genetic aberrations in the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (AKT)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway are common in human cancers including glioblastoma, yet, novel therapeutic approaches targeting this pathway in glioblastoma have not been successful. We hypothesized that molecular profiling in combination with in vitro drug sensitivity testing allows to identify signatures associated with sensitivity or resistance to PI3K/mTOR pathway inhibition. We analyzed the molecular mechanisms determining sensitivity to PI3K/mTOR inhibition using gene silencing or pharmacological target inhibition and proliferation, clonogenicity, or spherogenicity as readouts, in human long-term glioma cell (LTC) lines and glioma-initiating cells (GIC). Cultured glioma cells were universally sensitive to growth inhibition induced by PQR309, a novel, dual pan-PI3K/mTOR antagonist. Cells exhibited profound growth arrest, but little apoptotic or necrotic cell death as confirmed by electron microscopy; yet, there was evidence of senescence. Cell lines with high basal levels of phosphorylated (active) AKT, low levels of phosphorylated (inactive) protein translation repressor eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4E-binding protein 1 (p4E-BP1), and high levels of Ser9-phosphorylated (inactive) glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (pGSK3β) were more sensitive to PQR309. Accordingly, the activity of PQR309 was synergistically enhanced by AKT gene silencing or direct pharmacological AKT inhibition. In vivo studies confirmed the anti-glioma activity of PQR309 alone or in combination with AKT inhibition in the orthotopic LN-229 glioma xenograft model in nude mice. These data justify to explore combined targeted therapy approaches in glioblastoma that aim at down-regulating AKT function to enhance the therapeutic potential of dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors.

Keywords: PQR309; combination; glioma; profiling; targeted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing / drug effects
  • Gene Silencing / physiology*
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Random Allocation
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays / methods


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Eif4ebp1 protein, mouse
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt