Cancer discovery

PTEN-deficient tumors depend on AKT2 for maintenance and survival.

PMID 24838891


Loss of PTEN is a common event in many cancers and leads to hyperactivation of the PI3K-AKT signaling pathway. The mechanisms by which AKT isoforms mediate signaling to phenotypes associated with PTEN inactivation in cancer have not been defined. Here, we show that AKT2 is exclusively required for PTEN-deficient prostate tumor spheroid maintenance, whereas AKT1 is dispensable. shRNA silencing of AKT2 but not AKT1 promotes regression of prostate cancer xenografts. Mechanistically, we show that AKT2 silencing upregulates p21 and the proapoptotic protein BAX and downregulates the insulin-like growth factor receptor-1. We also show that p21 is an effector of AKT2 in mediating prostate tumor maintenance. Moreover, AKT2 is also exclusively required for the maintenance and survival of other PTEN-deficient solid tumors, including breast cancer and glioblastoma. These findings identify a specific function for AKT2 in mediating survival of PTEN-deficient tumors and provide a rationale for developing therapeutics targeting AKT2. Depletion of AKT2, but not AKT1, induces potent tumor regression in PTEN-deficient prostate cancer xenografts, concomitant with upregulation of p21, which may serve as a potential biomarker for screening AKT2 activity in clinical samples. The specific role of AKT2 in tumor maintenance provides a rationale for the development of isoform-specific inhibitors for patients with PTEN-deficient cancers.