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Pathway Description:

Since its initial discovery as a proto-oncogene, the serine/threonine kinase Akt (also known as protein kinase B or PKB) has become a major focus of attention because of its critical regulatory role in diverse cellular processes, including cancer progression and insulin metabolism. The Akt cascade is activated by receptor tyrosine kinases, integrins, B and T cell receptors, cytokine receptors, G-protein-coupled receptors and other stimuli that induce the production of phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5 triphosphates (PtdIns(3,4,5)P3) by phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K). These lipids serve as plasma membrane docking sites for proteins that harbor pleckstrin-homology (PH) domains, including Akt and its upstream activator PDK1. The tumor suppressor PTEN is recognized as a major inhibitor of Akt and is frequently lost in human tumors. Recently, there has been increased focus on phosphatases that can inactivate Akt, including PHLLP.

There are three highly related isoforms of Akt (Akt1, Akt2, and Akt3) and these represent the major signaling arm of PI3K. For example, Akt is important for insulin signaling and glucose metabolism, with genetic studies in mice revealing a central role for Akt2 in these processes. In addition, germline mutations of Akt have been identified in pathological conditions of cancer and insulin metabolism.

Akt regulates cell growth through its effects on the TSC1/TSC2 complex and mTOR pathways, as well as cell cycle and cell proliferation through its direct action on the CDK inhibitors p21 and p27, and its indirect effect on the levels of cyclin D1 and p53. Akt is a major mediator of cell survival through direct inhibition of pro-apoptotic signals such as the pro-apoptotic regulator Bad and the Fox0 and Myc family of transcription factors. T lymphocyte trafficking to lymphoid tissues is controlled by the expression of adhesion factors downstream of Akt. In addition, Akt has been shown to regulate proteins involved in neuronal function including GABA receptor, ataxin-1, and huntingtin proteins. Akt has been demonstrated to interact with Smad molecules to regulate TGF-β signaling. Finally, lamin A phosphorylation by Akt could play a role in the structural organization of nuclear proteins. These findings make Akt/PKB an important therapeutic target for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, laminopathies, stroke, and neurodegenerative disease.

Selected Reviews:

We would like to thank Prof. Michael Scheid, York University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada for reviewing this diagram.

created September 2007

revised October 2012