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Targeting the Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase/Akt/Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling Network in Cancer Stem Cells

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Cancer stem cells (CSCs) comprise a subset of hierarchically organized, rare cancer cells with the ability to initiate cancer in xenografts of genetically modified murine models. CSCs are thought to be responsible for tumor onset, self-renewal/maintenance, mutation accumulation, and metastasis. The existence of CSCs could explain the high frequency of neoplasia relapse and resistance to all of currently available therapies, including chemotherapy. The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway is a key regulator of physiological cell processes which include proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, motility, metabolism, and autophagy. Nevertheless, aberrantly upregulated PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling characterizes many types of cancers where it negatively influences prognosis. Several lines of evidence indicate that this signaling system plays a key role also in CSC biology. Of note, CSCs are more sensitive to pathway inhibition with small molecules when compared to healthy stem cells. This observation provides the proof-of-principle that functional differences in signaling transduction pathways between CSCs and healthy stem cells can be identified. Here, we review the evidence which links the signals deriving from the PI3K/Akt/mTOR network with CSC biology, both in hematological and solid tumors. We then highlight how therapeutic targeting of PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling with small molecule inhibitors could improve cancer patient outcome, by eliminating CSCs.

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Keywords: Akt; CSC biology; Cancer stem cells; PI3K; PI3K/Akt/mTOR; differentiation; leukemic stem cells; mTOR; proliferation; targeted therapy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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