A new fork for clinical application: Targeting forkhead transcription factors in cancer therapy

Jer-Yen Yang, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


RAS-ERK-MAPK (Mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway plays an essential role in proliferation, differentiation, and tumor progression. In this study, we showed that ERK downregulated FOXO3a through directly interacting with and phosphorylating FOXO3a at Serine 294, Serine 344, and Serine 425. ERK-phosphorylated FOXO3a was degraded by MDM2-mediated ubiquitin-proteosome pathway. FOXO3a phosphorylation and degradation consequently promoted cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. However, the non-phosphorylated FOXO3a mutant, which was resistant to the interaction and degradation by MDM2, resulted in inhibition of tumor formation. Forkhead O transcription factors (FOXOs) are important in the regulation of cellular functions including cell cycle arrest and cell death. Perturbation of FOXOs function leads to deregulated cell proliferation and cancer. Inactivation of FOXO proteins by activation of cell survival pathways, such as PI3K/AKT/IKK, is associated with tumorigenesis. Our study will further highlight FOXOs as new therapeutic targets in a broad spectrum of cancers. Chemotherapeutic drug resistance is the most concerned problem in cancer therapy as resistance ultimately leads to treatment failure of cancer patients. In another study, we showed that blocking ERK activity with AZD6244, an established MEK1/2 inhibitor currently under human cancer clinical trials, enhances FOXO3a expression in various human cancer cell lines in vitro, and also in human colon cancer cell xenografts in vivo. Knocking down FOXO3a and its downstream gene Bim impaired AZD6244-induced growth suppression, whereas restoring activation of FOXO3a sensitized human cancer cell to AZD6244-induced growth arrest and apoptosis. More importantly, AZD6244-resistant cancer cells showed impaired endogenous FOXO3a nuclear translocation, reduced FOXO3a-Bim promoter association and significantly decreased Bim expression in response to AZD6244. AZD6244-resistant cancer cells can be sensitized to API-2 (an AKT inhibitor) and LY294002 (a PI3K inhibitor) in suppressing cell growth and colony formation, these inhibitors were known to enhance FOXO3a activity/nuclear translocation through inhibiting PI3K-AKT pathway. This study reveals novel molecular mechanism contributing to AZD6244-resistance through regulation of FOXO3a activity, further provides significant clinical implication of combining AZD6244 with PI3K/AKT inhibitors for sensitizing AZD6244-resistant cancer cells by activating FOXO3a. FOXO3a activation can be an essential pharmacological target and indicator to mediate and predict AZD6244 efficacy in clinical use.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Medicine

Recommended Citation

Yang, Jer-Yen, "A new fork for clinical application: Targeting forkhead transcription factors in cancer therapy" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3358135.