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Mutations in the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase pathway: role in tumor progression and therapeutic implications in breast cancer

Todd W Miller12, Brent N Rexer23, Joan T Garrett3 and Carlos L Arteaga1234*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cancer Biology, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA

2 Breast Cancer Research Program, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA

3 Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA

4 Division of Hematology-Oncology, VUMC, 2220 Pierce Avenue, 777 PRB, Nashville, TN 37232, USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2011, 13:224  doi:10.1186/bcr3039

Published: 1 November 2011


Mutations in genes that constitute the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway occur in >70% of breast cancers. Clinical and experimental evidence suggest that PI3K pathway activation promotes resistance to some of the current breast cancer therapies. PI3K is a major signaling hub downstream of human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER)2 and other receptor tyrosine kinases. PI3K activates AKT, serum/glucocorticoid regulated kinase (SGK), phosphoinositide-dependent kinase 1 (PDK1), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), and several other molecules involved in cell cycle progression and survival. In estrogen receptor (ER)+ breast cancer cells, PI3K activation promotes estrogen-dependent and -independent ER transcriptional activity, which, in turn, may contribute to anti-estrogen resistance. Activation of this pathway also confers resistance to HER2-targeted therapies. In experimental models of resistance to anti-estrogens and HER2 inhibitors, pharmacological inhibition of PI3K/AKT/mTOR has been shown to overcome drug resistance. Early clinical data suggest that combined inhibition of either HER2 or ER plus inhibition of the PI3K pathway might be an effective strategy for treatment of respective HER2+ and ER+ breast cancers resistant to standard therapies. Here, we review alterations in the PI3K pathway in breast cancer, their association with therapeutic resistance, and the state of clinical development of PI3K pathway inhibitors.