Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Cancer Biology

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Powel Brown, M.D., Ph.D

Committee Member

Peter Davies, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Faye Johnson, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mong-Hong Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dihua Yu, M.D., Ph.D.


The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway, through its major effector node AKT, is critical for the promotion of cell growth, division, motility and apoptosis evasion. This signaling axis is therefore commonly targeted in the form of mutations and amplifications in a myriad of malignancies. Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) was first discovered as the kinase responsible for phosphorylating and inhibiting the activity of glycogen synthase, ultimately antagonizing the storage of glucose as glycogen. Its activity counteracts the effects of insulin in glucose metabolism and AKT has long been recognized as one of the key molecules capable of phosphorylating GSK3 and inhibiting its activity. However, here we demonstrate that GSK3 is required for optimal phosphorylation and activation of AKT in different malignant cell lines, and that this effect is independent of the type of growth factor stimulation and can happen even in basal states. Both GSK3 alpha and GSK3 beta isoforms are necessary for AKT to become fully active, displaying a redundant role in the setting. We also demonstrate that this effect of GSK3 on AKT phosphorylation and full activation is dependent on its kinase activity, since highly specific inhibitors targeting GSK3 catalytic activity also promote a reduction in phosphorylated AKT. Analysis of reverse phase protein array screening of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells treated with RNA interference targeting GSK3 unexpectedly revealed an increase in levels of phosphorylated MAPK14 (p38). Treatment with the selective p38 inhibitor SB 202190 rescued AKT activation in that cell line, corroborating the importance of unbiased proteomic analysis in exposing cross-talks between signaling networks and demonstrating a critical role for p38 in the regulation of AKT phosphorylation.


GSK3, AKT, p38, PI3K pathway, signaling, reverse phase protein array



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