Combined MAPK/PI3K pathway inhibition represents an attractive, albeit toxic, therapeutic strategy in oncology. Since PTEN lies at the intersection of these two pathways, we investigated whether PTEN status determines the functional response to combined pathway inhibition. PTEN (gene, mRNA, and protein) status was extensively characterized in a panel of cancer cell lines and combined MEK/mTOR inhibition displayed highly synergistic pharmacologic interactions almost exclusively in PTEN-loss models. Genetic manipulation of PTEN status confirmed a mechanistic role for PTEN in determining the functional outcome of combined pathway blockade. Proteomic analysis showed greater phosphoproteomic profile modification(s) in response to combined MEK/mTOR inhibition in PTEN-loss contexts and identified JAK1/STAT3 activation as a potential mediator of synergistic interactions. Overall, our results show that PTEN-loss is a crucial determinant of synergistic interactions between MAPK and PI3K pathway inhibitors, potentially exploitable for the selection of cancer patients at the highest chance of benefit from combined therapeutic strategies.
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