GSK-3: a multifaceted player in acute leukemias

Alberto M Martelli, Camilla Evangelisti, Francesca Paganelli, Francesca Chiarini, James A McCubrey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) consists of two isoforms (α and β) that were originally linked to glucose metabolism regulation. However, GSK-3 is also involved in several signaling pathways controlling many different key functions in healthy cells. GSK-3 is a unique kinase in that its isoforms are constitutively active, while they are inactivated mainly through phosphorylation at Ser residues by a variety of upstream kinases. In the early 1990s, GSK-3 emerged as a key player in cancer cell pathophysiology. Since active GSK-3 promotes destruction of multiple oncogenic proteins (e.g., β-catenin, c-Myc, Mcl-1) it was considered to be a tumor suppressor. Accordingly, GSK-3 is frequently inactivated in human cancer via aberrant regulation of upstream signaling pathways. More recently, however, it has emerged that GSK-3 isoforms display also oncogenic properties, as they up-regulate pathways critical for neoplastic cell proliferation, survival, and drug-resistance. The regulatory roles of GSK-3 isoforms in cell cycle, apoptosis, DNA repair, tumor metabolism, invasion, and metastasis reflect the therapeutic relevance of these kinases and provide the rationale for combining GSK-3 inhibitors with other targeted drugs. Here, we discuss the multiple and often conflicting roles of GSK-3 isoforms in acute leukemias. We also review the current status of GSK-3 inhibitor development for innovative leukemia therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Apr 2 2021

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