Requirement for the PI3K/Akt pathway in MEK1-mediated growth and prevention of apoptosis: Identification of an Achilles heel in leukemia

W. L. Blalock, P. M. Navolanic, L. S. Steelman, J. G. Shelton, P. W. Moye, J. T. Lee, R. A. Franklin, A. Mirza, M. McMahon, M. K. White, J. A. McCubrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Raf/MEK/ERK kinase cascade plays a critical role in transducing growth signals from activated cell surface receptors. Using ΔMEK1:ER, a conditionally active form of MEK1 which responds to either β-estradiol or the estrogen receptor antagonist 4 hydroxy-tamoxifen (4HT), we previously documented the ability of this dual specificity protein kinase to abrogate the cytokine-dependency of human (TF-1) and murine (FDC-P1 and FL5.12) hematopoietic cells lines. Here we demonstrate the ability of ΔMEK1:ER to activate the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/p70 ribosomal S6 kinase (p70S6K) pathway and the importance of this pathway in MEK1-mediated prevention of apoptosis. MEK1-responsive cells can be maintained long term in the presence of β-estradiol, 4HT or IL-3. Removal of hormone led to the rapid cessation of cell proliferation and the induction of apoptosis in a manner similar to cytokine deprivation of the parental cells. Stimulation of ΔMEK1:ER by 4HT resulted in ERK, PI3K, Akt and p70S6K activation. Treatment with PI3K, Akt and p70S6K inhibitors prevented MEK-responsive growth. Furthermore, the apoptotic effects of PI3K/Akt/p70S6K inhibitors could be enhanced by cotreatment with MEK inhibitors. Use of a PI3K inhibitor and a constitutively active form of Akt, [ΔAkt(Myr+)], indicated that activation of PI3K was necessary for MEK1-responsive growth and survival as activation of Akt alone was unable to compensate for the loss of PI3K activity. Cells transduced by MEK or MEK+Akt displayed different sensitivities to signal transduction inhibitors, which targeted these pathways. These results indicate a requirement for the activation of the PI3K pathway during MEK-mediated transformation of certain hematopoietic cells. These experiments provide important clues as to why the identification of mutant signaling pathways may be the Achilles heel of leukemic cell growth. Leukemia treatment targeting multiple signal transduction pathways may be more efficacious than therapy aimed at inhibiting a single pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1058-1067
Number of pages10
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2003


  • Akt
  • Cytokines
  • MEK1
  • Oncogenes
  • P70
  • PI3K
  • Signal transduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Cancer Research

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