New insights into the role of GSK-3β in the brain: from neurodegenerative disease to tumorigenesis

PeerJ. 2023 Dec 12:11:e16635. doi: 10.7717/peerj.16635. eCollection 2023.


Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) is a serine/threonine kinase widely expressed in various tissues and organs. Unlike other kinases, GSK-3 is active under resting conditions and is inactivated upon stimulation. In mammals, GSK-3 includes GSK-3 α and GSK-3β isoforms encoded by two homologous genes, namely, GSK3A and GSK3B. GSK-3β is essential for the control of glucose metabolism, signal transduction, and tissue homeostasis. As more than 100 known proteins have been identified as GSK-3β substrates, it is sometimes referred to as a moonlighting kinase. Previous studies have elucidated the regulation modes of GSK-3β. GSK-3β is involved in almost all aspects of brain functions, such as neuronal morphology, synapse formation, neuroinflammation, and neurological disorders. Recently, several comparatively specific small molecules have facilitated the chemical manipulation of this enzyme within cellular systems, leading to the discovery of novel inhibitors for GSK-3β. Despite these advancements, the therapeutic significance of GSK-3β as a drug target is still complicated by uncertainties surrounding the potential of inhibitors to stimulate tumorigenesis. This review provides a comprehensive overview of the intricate mechanisms of this enzyme and evaluates the existing evidence regarding the therapeutic potential of GSK-3β in brain diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, mood disorders, and glioblastoma.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; GSK-3β; Glioblastoma; Neuroinflammation; Parkinson’s disease; Synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / genetics
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / genetics
  • Mammals
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / drug therapy


  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 82204500), and the Key Discipline Construction Project of Pudong Health Bureau of Shanghai: Clinical Pharmacy (No. PWZxk2022-27). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.