Organismal roles for the PI3Kα and β isoforms: their specificity, redundancy or cooperation is context-dependent

Biochem J. 2021 Mar 26;478(6):1199-1225. doi: 10.1042/BCJ20210004.


PI3Ks are important lipid kinases that produce phosphoinositides phosphorylated in position 3 of the inositol ring. There are three classes of PI3Ks: class I PI3Ks produce PIP3 at plasma membrane level. Although D. melanogaster and C. elegans have only one form of class I PI3K, vertebrates have four class I PI3Ks called isoforms despite being encoded by four different genes. Hence, duplication of these genes coincides with the acquisition of coordinated multi-organ development. Of the class I PI3Ks, PI3Kα and PI3Kβ, encoded by PIK3CA and PIK3CB, are ubiquitously expressed. They present similar putative protein domains and share PI(4,5)P2 lipid substrate specificity. Fifteen years after publication of their first isoform-selective pharmacological inhibitors and genetically engineered mouse models (GEMMs) that mimic their complete and specific pharmacological inhibition, we review the knowledge gathered in relation to the redundant and selective roles of PI3Kα and PI3Kβ. Recent data suggest that, further to their redundancy, they cooperate for the integration of organ-specific and context-specific signal cues, to orchestrate organ development, physiology, and disease. This knowledge reinforces the importance of isoform-selective inhibitors in clinical settings.

Keywords: PI3K; genetically engineered mouse models; lipid signalling; pharmacological inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Phosphatidylinositols / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Phosphatidylinositols
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIK3CA protein, human
  • PIK3CB protein, human