Background: Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) are a widely conserved family of serine/threonine protein kinases involved in many cellular programs, such as cell proliferation, differentiation, motility, and death. The p44/42 MAPK (Erk1/2) signaling pathway can be activated in response to a diverse range of extracellular stimuli including mitogens, growth factors, and cytokines (1-3), and research investigators consider it an important target in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer (4). Upon stimulation, a sequential three-part protein kinase cascade is initiated, consisting of a MAP kinase kinase kinase (MAPKKK or MAP3K), a MAP kinase kinase (MAPKK or MAP2K), and a MAP kinase (MAPK). Multiple p44/42 MAP3Ks have been identified, including members of the Raf family, as well as Mos and Tpl2/COT. MEK1 and MEK2 are the primary MAPKKs in this pathway (5,6). MEK1 and MEK2 activate p44 and p42 through phosphorylation of activation loop residues Thr202/Tyr204 and Thr185/Tyr187, respectively. Several downstream targets of p44/42 have been identified, including p90RSK (7) and the transcription factor Elk-1 (8,9). p44/42 are negatively regulated by a family of dual-specificity (Thr/Tyr) MAPK phosphatases, known as DUSPs or MKPs (10), along with MEK inhibitors, such as U0126 and PD98059.
Background: Akt, also referred to as PKB or Rac, plays a critical role in controlling survival and apoptosis (1-3). This protein kinase is activated by insulin and various growth and survival factors to function in a wortmannin-sensitive pathway involving PI3 kinase (2,3). Akt is activated by phospholipid binding and activation loop phosphorylation at Thr308 by PDK1 (4) and by phosphorylation within the carboxy terminus at Ser473. The previously elusive PDK2 responsible for phosphorylation of Akt at Ser473 has been identified as mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in a rapamycin-insensitive complex with rictor and Sin1 (5,6). Akt promotes cell survival by inhibiting apoptosis through phosphorylation and inactivation of several targets, including Bad (7), forkhead transcription factors (8), c-Raf (9), and caspase-9. PTEN phosphatase is a major negative regulator of the PI3 kinase/Akt signaling pathway (10). LY294002 is a specific PI3 kinase inhibitor (11). Another essential Akt function is the regulation of glycogen synthesis through phosphorylation and inactivation of GSK-3α and β (12,13). Akt may also play a role in insulin stimulation of glucose transport (12). In addition to its role in survival and glycogen synthesis, Akt is involved in cell cycle regulation by preventing GSK-3β-mediated phosphorylation and degradation of cyclin D1 (14) and by negatively regulating the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p27 Kip1 (15) and p21 Waf1/Cip1 (16). Akt also plays a critical role in cell growth by directly phosphorylating mTOR in a rapamycin-sensitive complex containing raptor (17). More importantly, Akt phosphorylates and inactivates tuberin (TSC2), an inhibitor of mTOR within the mTOR-raptor complex (18,19).
Background: PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome ten), also referred to as MMAC (mutated in multiple advanced cancers) phosphatase, is a tumor suppressor implicated in a wide variety of human cancers (1). PTEN encodes a 403 amino acid polypeptide originally described as a dual-specificity protein phosphatase (2). The main substrates of PTEN are inositol phospholipids generated by the activation of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) (3). PTEN is a major negative regulator of the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway (1,4,5). PTEN possesses a carboxy-terminal, noncatalytic regulatory domain with three phosphorylation sites (Ser380, Thr382, and Thr383) that regulate PTEN stability and may affect its biological activity (6,7). PTEN regulates p53 protein levels and activity (8) and is involved in G protein-coupled signaling during chemotaxis (9,10).
Background: LKB1 (STK11) is a serine/threonine kinase and tumor suppressor that helps control cell structure, apoptosis and energy homeostasis through regulation of numerous downstream kinases (1,2). A cytosolic protein complex comprised of LKB1, putative kinase STRAD, and the MO25 scaffold protein, activates both AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and several AMPK-related kinases (3). AMPK plays a predominant role as the master regulator of cellular energy homeostasis, controlling downstream effectors that regulate cell growth and apoptosis in response to cellular ATP concentrations (4). LKB1 appears to be phosphorylated in cells at several sites, including human LKB1 at Ser31/325/428 and Thr189/336/363 (5).Mutation in the corresponding LKB1 gene causes Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS), an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by benign GI tract polyps and dark skin lesions of the mouth, hands, and feet (6). A variety of other LKB1 gene mutations have been associated with the formation of sporadic cancers in several tissues (7).