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Keywords:

  • constitutive activation;
  • PI3K/AKT pathway;
  • BRCA1-defective breast cancer;
  • kinase inhibitor;
  • chemotherapeutic agents;
  • synergism

Abstract

Loss or decrease of wild type BRCA1 function, by either mutation or reduced expression, has a role in hereditary and sporadic human breast and ovarian cancers. We report here that the PI3K/AKT pathway is constitutively active in BRCA1-defective human breast cancer cells. Levels of phospho-AKT are sustained even after serum starvation in breast cancer cells carrying deleterious BRCA1 mutations. Knockdown of BRCA1 in MCF7 cells increases the amount of phospho-AKT and sensitizes cells to small molecule protein kinase inhibitors (PKIs) targeting the PI3K/AKT pathway. Restoration of wild type BRCA1 inhibits the activated PI3K/AKT pathway and de-sensitizes cells to PKIs targeting this pathway in BRCA1 mutant breast cancer cells, regardless of PTEN mutations. In addition, clinical PI3K/mTOR inhibitors, PI-103, and BEZ235, showed anti-proliferative effects on BRCA1 mutant breast cancer cell lines and synergism in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs, cisplatin, doxorubicin, topotecan, and gemcitabine. BEZ235 synergizes with the anti-proliferative effects of gemcitabine by enhancing caspase-3/7 activity. Our results suggest that the PI3K/AKT pathway can be an important signaling pathway for the survival of BRCA1-defective breast cancer cells and pharmacological inhibition of this pathway is a plausible treatment for a subset of breast cancers. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.