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Posts Tagged ‘NF-κB’


Sensors and Signaling in Oxidative Stress

Author and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

This is article ELEVEN in the following series on Calcium Role in Cardiovascular Diseases

Part I: Identification of Biomarkers that are Related to the Actin Cytoskeleton
Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/12/10/identification-of-biomarkers-
that-are-related-to-the-actin-cytoskeleton/

Part II: Role of Calcium, the Actin Skeleton, and Lipid Structures in Signaling and Cell Motility
Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Stephen Williams, PhD and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/08/26/role-of-calcium-the-actin-
skeleton-and-lipid-structures-in-signaling-and-cell-motility/

Part III: Renal Distal Tubular Ca2+ Exchange Mechanism in Health and Disease
Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Stephen J. Williams, PhD
and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/09/02/renal-distal-tubular-ca2-
exchange-mechanism-in-health-and-disease/

Part IV: The Centrality of Ca(2+) Signaling and Cytoskeleton Involving Calmodulin Kinases and
Ryanodine Receptors in Cardiac Failure, Arterial Smooth Muscle, Post-ischemic Arrhythmia,
Similarities and Differences, and Pharmaceutical Targets
Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/09/08/the-centrality-of-ca2-signaling-and-cytoskeleton-
involving-calmodulin-kinases-and-ryanodine-receptors-in-cardiac-failure-arterial-smooth-muscle-
post-ischemic-arrhythmia-similarities-and-differen/

Part V: Ca2+-Stimulated Exocytosis:  The Role of Calmodulin and Protein Kinase C in Ca2+ Regulation of Hormone and Neurotransmitter

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP
and
Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/12/23/calmodulin-and-protein-kinase-c-drive-the-ca2-regulation-of-hormone-and-neurotransmitter-release-that-triggers-ca2-stimulated-exocytosis/

Part VI: Calcium Cycling (ATPase Pump) in Cardiac Gene Therapy: Inhalable Gene Therapy for Pulmonary
Arterial Hypertension and Percutaneous Intra-coronary Artery Infusion for Heart Failure: Contributions by Roger J. Hajjar, MD
Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/08/01/calcium-molecule-in-cardiac-gene-therapy-inhalable-gene-therapy-
for-pulmonary-arterial-hypertension-and-percutaneous-intra-coronary-artery-infusion-for-heart-failure-contributions-by-roger-j-hajjar/

Part VII: Cardiac Contractility & Myocardium Performance: Ventricular Arrhythmias and Non-ischemic Heart Failure –
Therapeutic Implications for Cardiomyocyte Ryanopathy (Calcium Release-related Contractile Dysfunction) and Catecholamine Responses
Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/08/28/cardiac-contractility-myocardium-performance-ventricular-arrhythmias-
and-non-ischemic-heart-failure-therapeutic-implications-for-cardiomyocyte-ryanopathy-calcium-release-related-contractile/

Part VIII: Disruption of Calcium Homeostasis: Cardiomyocytes and Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells:
The Cardiac and Cardiovascular Calcium Signaling Mechanism
Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/09/12/disruption-of-calcium-homeostasis-cardiomyocytes-and-vascular-smooth-
muscle-cells-the-cardiac-and-cardiovascular-calcium-signaling-mechanism/

Part IX: Calcium-Channel Blockers, Calcium Release-related Contractile Dysfunction
(Ryanopathy) and Calcium as Neurotransmitter Sensor
Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/09/16/calcium-channel-blocker-calcium-as-neurotransmitter-sensor-
and-calcium-release-related-contractile-dysfunction-ryanopathy/

Part X: Synaptotagmin functions as a Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of
vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission
Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/09/10/synaptotagmin-functions-as-a-calcium-sensor-how-calcium-ions-
regulate-the-fusion-of-vesicles-with-cell-membranes-during-neurotransmission/

Part XI: Sensors and Signaling in Oxidative Stress
Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/11/01/sensors-and-signaling-in-oxidative-stress/

Part XII: Atherosclerosis Independence: Genetic Polymorphisms of Ion Channels Role in the Pathogenesis of Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction and Myocardial Ischemia (Coronary Artery Disease (CAD))

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/12/21/genetic-polymorphisms-of-ion-channels-have-a-role-in-the-pathogenesis-of-coronary-microvascular-dysfunction-and-ischemic-heart-disease/

This important article on oxidative stress was published in Free Radical Biol. and Med.

Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) Signaling in Oxidative Stress

James W. Kaspar, Suresh K. Niture, and Anil K. Jaiswal*
Department of Pharmacology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD

Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Nov; 47(9): 1304–1309.           http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.07.035

Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) are cellular sensors of chemical and radiation induced oxidative and electrophilic stress. Nrf2 is a nuclear transcription factor that controls the expression and coordinated induction of a battery of defensive genes encoding detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins. This is a mechanism of critical importance for cellular protection and cell survival. Nrf2 is retained in the cytoplasm by an inhibitor INrf2. INrf2 functions as an adapter for Cul3/Rbx1 mediated degradation of Nrf2. In response to oxidative/electrophilic stress, Nrf2 is switched on and then off by distinct early and delayed mechanisms. Oxidative/electrophilic modification of INrf2cysteine151 and/or PKC phosphorylation of Nrf2serine40 results in

  • the escape or release of Nrf2 from INrf2.

Nrf2 is stabilized and

  • translocates to the nucleus,
  • forms heterodimers with unknown proteins, and
  • binds antioxidant response element (ARE) that
  • leads to coordinated activation of gene expression.
  • It takes less than fifteen minutes from the time of exposure to switch on nuclear import of Nrf2. This is followed by activation of a delayed mechanism that controls switching off of Nrf2 activation of gene expression. GSK3β phosphorylates Fyn at unknown threonine residue(s) leading to nuclear localization of Fyn. Fyn phosphorylates Nrf2tyrosine568
  • resulting in nuclear export of Nrf2, binding with INrf2 and
  • degradation of Nrf2.

The switching on and off of Nrf2 protects cells against free radical damage, prevents apoptosis and promotes cell survival.

Introduction

Oxidative stress is induced by a vast range of factors including xenobiotics, drugs, heavy metals and ionizing radiation. Oxidative stress leads to the generation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and electrophiles. ROS and electrophiles generated can have a profound impact on survival, growth development and evolution of all living organisms [1,2] ROS include

  • both free radicals, such as the superoxide anion and the hydroxyl radical, and
  • oxidants such as hydrogen peroxide [3].

ROS and electrophiles can cause diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular complications, acute and chronic inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases [1]. Therefore, it is obvious that

  • cells must constantly labor to control levels of ROS, preventing them from accumulation.

Much of what we know about the mechanisms of protection against oxidative stress has come from the study of prokaryotic cells [4,5]. Prokaryotic cells utilize transcription factors OxyR and SoxRS to sense the redox state of the cell, and

  • during oxidative stress these factors induce the expression of nearly eighty defensive genes [5].

Eukaryotic cells have similar mechanisms to protect against oxidative stress [Fig. 1; ref. 3,6–9]. Initial effect of oxidative/electrophilic stress leads to activation of a battery of defensive gene expression that leads to detoxification of chemicals and ROS and prevention of free radical generation and cell survival [Fig. 1].

Fig 1.  Chemical and radiation exposure and coordinated induction of defensive genes.

Fig. 1. Chemical and radiation exposure and coordinated induction of defensive genes.

Of these genes, some are enzymes such as NAD(P)H:quinine oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1), NRH:quinone oxidoreductase 2 (NQO2), glutathione S-transferase Ya subunit (GST Ya Subunit), heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1), and γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase (γ-GCS), also known as glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL). Other genes have end products that regulate a wide variety of cellular activities including

  • signal transduction,
  • proliferation, and
  • immunologic defense reactions.

There is a wide variety of factors associated with the cellular response to oxidative stress. For example,

  • NF-E2 related factor 2 (Nrf2),
  • heat shock response activator protein 1, and
  • NF-kappaB promote cell survival,

whereas activation of c-jun, N-terminal kinases (JNK), p38 kinase and TP53 may lead to cell cycle arrest and apoptosis [10]. The Nrf2 pathway is regarded as the most important in the cell to protect against oxidative stress. [3,6–9]. It is noteworthy that accumulation of ROS and/or electrophiles leads to oxidative/electrophile stress,

  • membrane damage,
  • DNA adducts formation and
  • mutagenicity [Fig. 1].

These changes lead to degeneration of tissues and premature aging, apoptotic cell death, cellular transformation and cancer.

Antioxidant Response Element and Nrf2

Promoter analysis identified a cis-acting enhancer sequence designated as the antioxidant response element (ARE) that

  • controls the basal and inducible expression of antioxidant genes in response to xenobiotics, antioxidants, heavy metals and UV light [11].

The ARE sequence is responsive to a broad range of structurally diverse chemicals apart from β-nafthoflavone and phenolic antioxidants [12]. Mutational analysis revealed GTGACA***GC to be the core sequence of the ARE [11,13–14]. This core sequence is present in all Nrf2 downstream genes that respond to antioxidants and xenobiotics [3,6–9]. Nrf2 binds to the ARE and regulates ARE-mediated antioxidant enzyme genes expression and induction in response to a variety of stimuli including antioxidants, xenobiotics, metals, and UV irradiation [6,15–21].

Nrf2 is ubiquitously expressed in a wide range of tissue and cell types [22–24] and belongs to a subset of basic leucine zipper genes (bZIP) sharing a conserved structural domain designated as a cap’n’collar domain which is highly conserved in Drosphila transcription factor CNC (Fig. 2; ref. 25].

Fig. 2. Schematic Presentation of Various Domains of Nrf (Nrf1, Nrf2, Nrf3) and INrf2

Fig. 2. Schematic Presentation of Various Domains of Nrf (Nrf1, Nrf2, Nrf3) and INrf2

Nrf, NF-E2 Related Factor; INrf2, Inhibitor of Nrf2; NTR, N-Terminal Region; BTB, Broad complex, Tramtrack, Bric-a-brac; IVR, Intervening/linker Region; DGR, Kelch domain/ diglycine repeats; CTR, C-Terminal Region.

The basic region, just upstream of the leucine zipper region,

  • is responsible for DNA binding [3] and
  • the acidic region is required for transcriptional activation.

ARE-mediated transcriptional activation requires heterodimerization of Nrf2 with other bZIP proteins including Jun (c-Jun, Jun-D, and Jun-B) and small Maf (MafG, MafK, MafF) proteins [18– 20,26–27].

Initial evidence demonstrating the role of Nrf2 in antioxidant-induction of detoxifying enzymes came from studies on

  • the role of Nrf2 in ARE-mediated regulation of NQO1 gene expression [17].

Nrf2 was subsequently shown to be involved in

  • the transcriptional activation of other ARE-responsive genes such as
    • GST Ya, γ-GCS, HO-1, antioxidants, proteasomes, and drug transporters [3,6–9,28–33].

Overexpression of Nrf2 cDNA was shown to upregulate the expression and induction of the NQO1 gene in response to antioxidants and xenobiotics [17]. In addition, Nrf2-null mice exhibited a marked

  • decrease in the expression and induction of NQO1,
  • indicating that Nrf2 plays an essential role in the in vivo regulation of NQO1 in response to oxidative stress [26].

The importance of this transcription factor in upregulating ARE-mediated gene expression has been demonstrated by several in vivo and in vitro studies [reviewed in ref. 3]. The results indicate that Nrf2 is an important activator of phase II antioxidant genes [3,8].

Negative Regulation of Nrf2 mediated by INrf2

A cytosolic inhibitor (INrf2), also known as Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associating protein 1), of Nrf2 was identified and reported [Fig. 2; ref. 34–35]. INrf2, existing as a dimer [36], retains Nrf2 in the cytoplasm. Analysis of the INrf2 amino acid sequence and domain structure-function analyses have revealed that

  • INrf2 has a BTB (broad complex, tramtrack, bric-a-brac)/ POZ (poxvirus, zinc finger) domain and
  • a Kelch domain [34–35] also known as the DGR domain (Double glycine repeat) [37].

Keap1 has three additional domains/regions:

  1. the N-terminal region (NTR),
  2. the invervening region (IVR), and
  3. the C-terminal region (CTR) [8].

The BTB/POZ domain has been shown to be

  • a protein-protein interaction domain.

In the Drosophila Kelch protein, and in IPP,

  • the Kelch domain binds to actin [38–39]
  • allowing the scaffolding of INrf2 to the actin cytoskeleton
    • which plays an important role in Nrf2 retention in the cytosol [40].

The main function of INrf2 is to serve as

  • an adapter for the Cullin3/Ring Box 1 (Cul3/Rbx1) E3 ubiquitin ligase complex [41–43].

Cul3 serves as a scaffold protein that forms the E3 ligase complex with Rbx1 and recruits a cognate E2 enzyme [8].

INrf2

  1. via its N-terminal BTB/POZ domain binds to Cul3 [44] and
  2. via its C-terminal Kelch domain binds to the substrate Nrf2
  • leading to the ubiquitination and degradation of Nrf2 through the 26S proteasome [45–49].

Under normal cellular conditions, the cytosolic INrf2/Cul3-Rbx1 complex is constantly degrading Nrf2. When a cell is exposed to oxidative stress Nrf2 dissociates from the INrf2 complex, stabilizes and translocates into the nucleus leading to activation of ARE-mediated gene expression [3,6–9]. An alternative theory is that Nrf2 in response to oxidative stress escapes INrf2 degradation, stabilizes and translocates in the nucleus [49–50]. We suggested the theory of escape of Nrf2 from INrf2 [49] and similar suggestion was also made in another report [50]. However, the follow up studies in our laboratory could not support the escape theory. Escape theory is a possibility but has to be proven by experiments before it can be adapted. Therefore, we will use the release of Nrf2 from INrf2 in the rest of this review.

Numerous reports have suggested that

  • any mechanism that modifies INrf2 and/or Nrf2 disrupting the Nrf2:INrf2 interaction will result in the upregulation of ARE-mediated gene expression.

A model Nrf2:INrf2 signaling from antioxidant and xenobiotic to activation of ARE-mediated defensive gene expression is shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3. Nrf2 signaling in ARE-mediated coordinated activation of defensive genes

Fig. 3. Nrf2 signaling in ARE-mediated coordinated activation of defensive genes

Since the metabolism of antioxidants and xenobiotics results in the generation of ROS and electrophiles [51], it is thought that these molecules might act as second messengers, activating ARE-mediated gene expression. Several protein kinases including PKC, ERK, MAPK, p38, and PERK [49,52– 56] are known to modify Nrf2 and activate its release from INrf2. Among these mechanisms,

  1. oxidative/electrophilic stress mediated phosphorylation of Nrf2 at serine40 by PKC is necessary for Nrf2 release from INrf2, but
  2. is not required for Nrf2 accumulation in the nucleus [49,52–53].

In addition to post-translational modification in Nrf2, several crucial residues in INrf2 have also been proposed to be important for activation of Nrf2. Studies based on

  • the electrophile mediated modification,
  • location and
  • mutational analyses revealed
    • that three cysteine residues, Cys151, Cys273 and Cys288 are crucial for INrf2 activity [50].

INrf2 itself undergoes ubiquitination by the Cul3 complex, via a proteasomal independent pathway,

  • which was markedly increased in response to phase II inducers such as antioxidants [57].

It has been suggested that normally INrf2 targets Nrf2 for ubiquitin mediated degradation but

  • electrophiles may trigger a switch of Cul3 dependent ubiquitination from Nrf2 to INrf2 resulting in ARE gene induction.

The redox modulation of cysteines in INrf2

  • might be a mechanism redundant to the phosphorylation of Nrf2 by PKC, or that
  • the two mechanisms work in concert.

In addition to cysteine151 modification,

  • phosphorylation of Nrf2 has also been shown to play a role in INrf2 retention and release of Nrf2.

Serine104 of INrf2 is required for dimerization of INrf2, and

  • mutations of serine104 led to the disruption of the INrf2 dimer leading to the release of Nrf2 [36].

Recently, Eggler at al. demonstrated that modifying specific cysteines of the electrophile-sensing human INrf2 protein is insufficient to disrupt binding to the Nrf2 domain Neh2 (58). Upon introduction of electrophiles, modification of INrf2C151 leads to a change in the conformation of the BTB domain by means of perturbing the homodimerization site, disrupting Neh2 ubiquitination, and causing ubiquitination of INrf2. Modification of INrf2 cysteines by electrophiles does not lead to disruption of the INrf2–Nrf2 complex. Rather, the switch of ubiquitination from Nrf2 to INrf2 leads to Nrf2 nuclear accumulation.

More recently, our laboratory demonstrated that phosphorylation and de-phosphorylation of tyrosine141 in INrf2 regulates its stability and degradation, respectively [59]. The de-phosphorylation of tyrosine141 caused destabilization and degradation of INrf2 leading to the release of Nrf2. Furthermore, we showed that prothymosin-α mediates nuclear import of the INrf2/Cul3-Rbx1 complex [60]. The INrf2/Cul3-Rbx1 complex inside the nucleus exchanges prothymosin-α with Nrf2 resulting in degradation of Nrf2. These results led to the conclusion that prothymosin-α mediated nuclear import of INrf2/Cul3-Rbx1 complex leads to ubiquitination and degradation of nuclear Nrf2 presumably to regulate nuclear level of Nrf2 and rapidly switch off the activation of Nrf2 downstream gene expression. An auto-regulatory loop also exists within the Nrf2 pathway [61]. An ARE was identified in the INrf2 promoter that facilitates Nrf2 binding causing induction of the INrf2 gene. Nrf2 regulates INrf2 by controlling its transcription, and INrf2 controls Nrf2 by serving as an adaptor for degradation.

Other Regulatory Mediators of Nrf2

Bach1 (BTB and CNC homology 1, basic leucine zipper transcription factor 1) is a transcription repressor [62] that is ubiquitously expressed in tissues [63–64] and distantly related to Nrf2 [8]. In the absence of cellular stress, Bach1 heterodimers with small Maf proteins [65] that bind to the (ARE) [66] repressing gene expression. In the presence of oxidative stress, Bach1 releases from the ARE and is replaced by Nrf2. Bach1 competes with Nrf2 for binding to the ARE leading to suppression of Nrf2 downstream genes [66].

Nuclear import of Nrf2, from time of exposure to stabilization, takes roughly two hours [67]. This is followed by activation of a delayed mechanism involving Glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK3f3) that controls switching off of Nrf2 activation of gene expression (Fig. 3). GSK3f3 is a multifunctional serine/threonine kinase, which plays a major role in various signaling pathways [68]. GSK3f3 phosphorylates Fyn, a tyrosine kinase, at unknown threonine residue(s) leading to nuclear localization of Fyn [69]. Fyn phosphorylates Nrf2 tyrosine 568 resulting in nuclear export of Nrf2, binding with INrf2 and degradation of Nrf2 [70].

The negative regulation of Nrf2 by Bach1 and GSK3f3/Fyn are important in repressing Nrf2 downstream genes that were induced in response to oxidative/electrophilic stress. The tight control of Nrf2 is vital for the cells against free radical damage, prevention of apoptosis and cell survival [3,6–9,70].

Nrf2 in Cytoprotection, Cancer and Drug Resistance

Nrf2 is a major protective mechanism against xenobiotics capable of damaging DNA and initiating carcinogenesis [71]. Inducers of Nrf2 function as blocking agents that prevents carcinogens from reaching target sites, inhibits parent molecules undergoing metabolic activation, or subsequently preventing carcinogenic species from interacting with crucial cellular macromolecules, such as DNA, RNA, and proteins [72]. A plausible mechanism by which blocking agents impart their chemopreventive activity is the induction of detoxification and antioxidant enzymes [73]. Oltipraz, 3H-1,2,-dithiole-3-thione (D3T), Sulforaphane, and Curcumin can be considered potential chemopreventive agents because

  • these compounds have all been shown to induce Nrf2 [74–81].

Studies have shown a role of Nrf2 in protection against cadmium and manganese toxicity [82]. Nrf2 also plays an important role in reduction of methyl mercury toxicity [83]. Methylmercury activates Nrf2 and the activation of Nrf2 is essential for reduction of methylmercury by facilitating its excretion into extracellular space. In vitro and in vivo studies have shown a role of Nrf2 in neuroprotection and protection against Parkinson’s disease [84– 86]. Disruption of Nrf2 impairs the resolution of hyperoxia-induced acute lung injury and inflammation in mice [87]. Nrf2-knockout mice were more prone to

  • tumor growth when exposed to carcinogens such as benzo[a]pyrene, diesel exhaust, and N-nitrosobutyl (4-hydroxybutyl) amine [88–90].

INrf2/Nrf2 signaling is also shown to regulate oxidative stress tolerance and lifespan in Drosophila [91].

A role of Nrf2 in drug resistance is suggested based on its property to induce detoxifying and antioxidant enzymes (92–97). The loss of INrf2 (Keap1) function is shown to

  • lead to nuclear accumulation of Nrf2, activation of metabolizing enzymes and drug resistance (95).

Studies have reported mutations resulting in dysfunctional INrf2 in lung, breast and bladder cancers (96–100). A recent study reported that somatic mutations also occur in the coding region of Nrf2, especially in cancer patients with a history of smoking or suffering from squamous cell carcinoma (101). These mutations abrogate its interaction with INrf2 and nuclear accumulation of Nrf2. This gives advantage to

  • cancer cell survival and
  • undue protection from anti-cancer treatments.

However, the understanding of the mechanism of Nrf2 induced drug resistance remains in its infancy. In addition, the studies on Nrf2 regulated downstream pathways that contribute to drug resistance remain limited.

Future Perspectives

Nrf2 creates a new paradigm in cytoprotection, cancer prevention and drug resistance. Considerable progress has been made to better understand all mechanisms involved within the intracellular pathways regulating Nrf2 and its downstream genes. Preliminary studies demonstrate that

  • deactivation of Nrf2 is as important as activation of Nrf2.

Further studies are needed to better understand the negative regulation of Nrf2. Also better understanding of the negative regulation of Nrf2 could help design a new class of effective chemopreventive compounds not only targeting Nrf2 activation, but also

  • targeting the negative regulators of Nrf2.

Abbreviations: 

Nrf2    NF-E2 related factor 2;  INrf2   Inhibitor of Nrf2 also known as Keap1;   ROS    Reactive oxygen species.

References (1-15 of 101)

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2. Meneghini R. Iron homeostasis, oxidative stress, and DNA damage. Free Radic Biol Med 1997;23:783– 792. [PubMed: 9296456]

3. Jaiswal AK. Nrf2 signaling in coordinated activation of antioxidant gene expression. Free Radic Biol Med 2004;36:1199–1207. [PubMed: 15110384]

4. Bauer CE, Elsen S, Bird TH. Mechanisms for redox control of gene expression. Annu Rev Microbiol 1999;53:495–523. [PubMed: 10547699]

5. Zheng M, Storz G. Redox sensing by prokaryotic transcription factors. Biochem Pharm 2000;59:1–6. [PubMed: 10605928]

6. Dhakshinamoorthy S, Long DJ II, Jaiswal AK. Antioxidant regulation of genes encoding enzymes that detoxify xenobiotics and carcinogens. Current Topics in Cellular Regulation 2000;36:201–206. [PubMed: 10842753]

7. Zhang DD. Mechanistic studies of the Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway. Drug Metab Rev 2006;38:769– 789. [PubMed: 17145701]

8. Kobayashi M, Yamamoto M. Nrf2-Keap1 regulation of cellular defense mechanisms against electrophiles and reactive oxygen species. Adv Enzyme Regul 2006;46:113–140. [PubMed: 16887173]

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Author: Ziv Raviv PhD

 

Part A: Introduction to the PI3K/Akt pathway

Background

Akt/Protein kinase B (PKB) is a cytosolic serine/threonine kinase that promotes cell survival by inactivation of targets of the apoptotic pathways [1], and is implicated in the execution of many other cellular processes including:  cell proliferation, angiogenesis, glucose metabolism [2], protein translation, and gene transcription, all are mediated by extracellular and intracellular signals. In many cancers Akt is overexpressed and has central role in cancer progression and cancer cell survival [3,4], what makes it an attractive target for cancer therapy.

The Akt signaling pathway

Upstream signaling:

The Akt signaling pathway is initiated by growth factors leading to the recruiting and activation of phosphoinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) on receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). PI3K is then translocated to the cell membrane where it phosphorylates inositol ring at the D3 position of phosphatidylinositol  to form phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-triphosphate (PIP3). PIP3 serves to anchor Akt to the plasma membrane where it is phosphorylated at Thr308 by PDK1 and is further completely activated by mTOR by phosphorylation of Ser473. In certain circumstances activated Ras can also activate PI3K.

Downstream signaling:

Upon activation Akt is transducing its signals to downstream substrates to induce various intracellular processes, among them are: Activation of mTOR and its downstream effector S6K – to facilitate activation of translation; Phosphorylation of Bad – that inhibits apoptosis ; Phosphorylation of the tumor suppressor gene FOXO1 – inducing its ubiquitination and subsequent degradation by the proteasome;  Inhibition by phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) – which results in increase of glycogen synthesis.   Regulation of cell growth and survival is executed also by blocking apoptosis by Akt-associated survivin (BRC5) upregulation and via the NF-κB pathway by activation of IκB kinase (IKK).

  • Watch a Video on Akt Signaling Pathway

Figure 1: The Akt signaling pathway

AKT_cClick on image to enlarge

Taken from: Targeting the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway: progress, pitfalls, and promises. Workman P et al. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2008 Aug;8(4):393-412

Negative regulation:

PI3K-dependent Akt activation is negatively regulated by the tumor suppressor protein PTEN, which works essentially opposite to PI3K, namely,  PTEN acts as a phosphatase and dephosphorylates PIP3 back to PIP2. This step removes Akt from its membrane anchoring through PIP3 resulting in substantial decreased rate of Akt activation and consequently inactivation of Akt-depended downstream pathways. In addition, PIP3 can also be dephosphorylated by the SHIP family of inositol phosphatases form PIP2.

Involvement of Akt  in cancer

The PI3K/Akt pathway is frequently altered and deregulated in many human malignancies. Hyper-activation of AKT kinases is one of the most common molecular findings in human malignancies and account for malignant transformation. Mechanisms for Akt pathway activation include loss of tumor suppressor PTEN function, amplification or mutation of PI3K, amplification or mutation of Akt, activation of growth factor receptors, inactivation of the translation repressor protein 4E-BP1 [5], and exposure to carcinogens [3 ,4]. For instance, heterozygous deletion of PTEN in mice elicits spontaneous tumors attributed mainly to activation of Akt. In addition, the production PIP3 by PI3K is over-activated in a wide range of tumor types. On the other hand, Akt knockout mice demonstrate that Akt is required for both cancer cell survival and oncogenic transformation. That activation of Akt is oncogenic, could be explained by preventing normal apoptosis of cells, thereby enabling accumulation of more oncogenic mutations in these cells. In addition, activation of Akt can also abrogate cell cycle checkpoints and can overcome G2/M cell-cycle arrest mediated by DNA mismatch repair. Thus, cells in which Akt is activated can accumulate mutations because the G2 cell-cycle point is abrogated and survive and continue to divide because of the anti-apoptotic activity of Akt. It is, therefore, proposed that this dual activity of Akt activation may explain the frequent activation of Akt in human malignancies [6].

Taken together, Akt activation has an effective role in cancer and through its downstream substrates Akt controls many cancer related cellular processes such as cell metabolism, growth and survival, proliferation, and motility, all of which contribute to tumor initiation and progression. Therefore, this pathway is an attractive therapeutic target for cancer treatment because it serves as a convergence point for many growth stimuli. Moreover, activation of the PI3/Akt pathway confers resistance to many chemotherapeutic drags [6], and is a poor prognostic factor for many types of cancers. Therefore, small molecule agents that block PI3K/Akt signaling might block many aspects of the tumor-cell phenotype [7,8]. Indeed, the Akt pathway is a major target for anticancer drug development by pharmaceutical companies.

  • The below Part B review the efforts to develop targeted Akt therapies for cancer.

 

Part B: Clinically available/in clinical development PI3K/Akt/mTOR inhibitors 

As described in Part Athe PI3/Akt cascade is a major intracellular signaling route conferring pro-survival signals to the cell. In cancer, there are many conditions where the PI3K/Akt pathway is deregulated, an attribute that is contributing to cancer formation and propagation. Given that Akt servers as convergence point to many pro-survival signals together with it being deregulated frequently in cancers, make Akt as a valuable target for developing anti-cancer therapy.

In addition, Akt shortens patient survival by allowing cancer cells to escape the cytotoxic effects of standard chemotherapy drugs. The importance of the Akt pathway in cancer thus is also evident from its significant role in the resistance of tumors to chemotherapies. A considerable route in developing anti- Akt based therapies is thus combining Akt inhibitors with standard chemotherapy rather than the using of Akt inhibitors as single agents.

Even in targeted therapies for cancer, such those that target receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and other signaling pathways, it has been demonstrated that when applying a targeted agent such as trastuzumab  (Herceptin) a compensation reaction of increasing of downstream and parallel signaling pathways components, among them Akt, occurs in response, which enables cancer cells to be spared the effects of these targeted drugs. Therefore a multi-targeting approach with selective inhibitors would be useful, and inhibiting Akt directly will restore sensitivity to agents such as trastuzumab.

(i) Inhibitors that are in clinical use

Temsirolimus (CCI-779; marked as Torisel by Pfizer), an analog of sirolimus (rapamycin), is an immunophilin-binding antibiotic that blocks the initiation of the translation of mRNA by inhibiting mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in a highly specific manner. Rapamycin itself is toxic and found in the clinic however as an immunosuppressant to prevent rejection in organ transplantation. Temsirolimus acts by interacting with mTOR, preventing the phosphorylation of eIF4E-BP1 and p70S6K, and thereby inhibiting the initiation of the translation of mRNA. The main mechanism of temsirolimus is inhibition of proliferation by G1 phase arrest induction, yet without inducing apoptosis. Temsirolimus was introduced only recently to treat renal cell carcinoma (RCC). In this cancer type HIF-1a levels are accumulated since its degradation is reduced significantly due to mutations of von Hippel Lindau tumor-suppressor gene and the activation of mTOR only worsen that accumulation of HIF1-a, which is its downstream effector. Therefore by blocking mTOR function temsirolimus is reducing the accumulation of HIF-1a. Temsirolimus has been generally well tolerated by advanced RCC patients that could be attributed to its high specificity toward mTOR. However, temsirolimus is associated with a small, but significant increased risk of developing a fatal adverse event. Nevertheless, temsirolimus benefit the overall patient population with the approved indications, including RCC. In the pivotal phase III study, temsirolimus demonstrated median overall survival (OS) in previously untreated patients of 10.9 months in patients with advanced RCC with poor prognostic risk, compared with 7.3 months for interferon-alpha. Temsirolimus remains the only treatment that shows a significant improvement in OSin treatment-naive, poor-risk patients with advanced RCC. Temsirolimus approved cancer indications are RCC and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), and many other cancer conditions are found in advanced clinical development processes, including various solid tumors, diffused tumors (leukemias and lymphomas), and even in soft tissue sarcomas (STS).

Everolimus (RAD001; marketed by Novartis  as Afinitor) is an ester derivative of rapamycin and is also an inhibitor mTOR.  The drug inhibits oncogenic signaling in tumor cells and angiogenic signaling in vascular endothelial cells. Key features of everolimus include good tolerability, unique mechanism of action, G1 arrest, and induction of apoptosis. In vitro studies have demonstrated a cooperative effect between everolimus and gefitinib in various cancer cell lines. Treatment of human cancer cell lines with everolimus results in a decrease in p-4E-BP1, p-p70S6K, and p-S6 levels while increasing p-AKT levels. The rise of p-AKT is accompanied with a parallel increase in downstream p-GSK-3a/ß, suggesting feedback activation of the AKT pathway. Thus AKT activation could revert the antitumor activity of everolimus. Gefitinib completely prevents everolimus-induced p-AKT increase and markedly enhances the everolimus mediated decrease in p-4E-BP1 and p-p70S6K.

Everolimus is approved for the treatment of RCC, progressive pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, breast cancer in post-menopausal women with advanced hormone receptor (HR)-positive/HER2-negative. In addition the drug is used as a preventive drug of organ rejection after renal transplantation. As with the case of temsirolimus, everolimus has also a slight increase of mortality risk over other drugs.

Cancer indications that are now in clinical development for treatment by everolimus, some of which are in advanced clinical studies, include various forms of leukemias and lymphomas such as AML, ALL CML, T-cell leukemia, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and MCL. Everolimus is particularly applicable to the treatment of leukemia because mTOR-related messengers, particularly PI3K, AKT, p70S6K kinase and 4E-BP1, are known to be both constitutively activated in hematologic malignancies and interfere with the activity of current anti-leukemia therapy. Solid tumors such as lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal at various stages, as well as brain cancers and STS are also in developmental stages for everolimus treatment.

(ii) Inhibitors that are in advanced clinical development (phase II/III)

Perifosine (KRX-0401) by AEterna Zentaris – among Akt inhibitors under development for cancer therapy, perifosine is found in advanced stages of clinical development and is moving toward phase III clinical trials. It belongs to alkylphosphocholines (ALP) – phospholipid-like molecules – which disrupt lipid-mediated signal transduction pathways that are necessary for tumor cell growth and survival. ALP induce apoptotic cell death in a variety of tumor cell lines. Perifosine primarily acts on the cell membrane where it inhibits signaling that could explain its capability to inhibit Akt, as Akt interaction with PIP3 in the cytosolic face of the plasma cell membrane is essential to its activation. In addition to Akt, perifosine inhibits also JNK and NF-kB, both are also associated with apoptosis, cell growth, differentiation, and survival. In addition to its potential efficacy as a single agent, perifosine may provide synergistic effects when combined with established cancer treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, tyrosine kinase inhibitors such as commercially available EGFR inhibitors, and endocrine therapies.

Many clinical trials were/are conducted with perifosine in various cancer conditions and settings. Especially successive phase II studies engaged perifosine were with colorectal cancer (CRC), where patients with metastatic disease treated with the combination of capecitabine and perifosine had more than doubled the median time to progression (TTP) of the disease, which led to an ongoing phase III study. Other solid cancer indications phase II studies employing perifosine that had encouraging results include metastatic RCC (mRCC) and non-small lung cancer (NSLC). Perifosine is also exmined in clinical trials with hematological cancers. Advanced stages clinical studies were conducted in multiple myeloma (MM), where patients treated with the combination of perifosine + bortezomib (proteasome inhibitor) and dexamethasone, in which after, a phase III study was conducted on that basis. However, that phase III study was terminated in March 2013 upon recommendation by data safety monitoring board to discontinue the experiment since it was highly unlikely that the trial would achieve a significant difference in progression-free survival (PFS).  Another potential benefit for perifosine has been documented in Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia (WM).  In addition, perifosine is examined in other hematologic cancers such as in AML, CLL and lymphomas.

MK-2206 – MK-2206 by Merck is an allosteric inhibitor of Akt that is currently widely examined in tens of clinical experimentation where some of them are in phase II status.  In preclinical experiments, MK-2206, demonstrated synergistic activity when combined with other targeted therapies, such as erlotinib in NSCLC cell lines, and lapatinib in breast cancer cell lines and in xenograft mice bearing ovarian cancer, MK-2206 treatment led to substantial growth inhibition and sustained inhibition of Akt.

Several phase II research studies employing MK-2206 are in progress, among them found a multicenter study with advanced ovarian cancer resistant to platinum therapy, and another multicenter study with breast cancer patients. Phase I/II study is conducted also for CLL patients. Many others phase I studies are in progress, among them trails testing the combinations of MK-2206 with other targeted drugs as well as chemotherapy. For instance an ongoing phase I study is evaluating the addition of MK-2206 to trastuzumab in patients with solid tumors HER2 positive, or another study is conducted to evaluate MK-2206 in combination with trastuzumab and lapatinib for the treatment of HER2 positive, advanced solid tumors. MK-2206 is testing also in advanced NSCLC with the combination of gefitinib in one study and with erlotinib in another. In another relatively large phase I study, patients with advanced solid tumors were randomized to MK-2206 either given with carboplatin and paclitaxel, docetaxel, or erlotinib. Another study with patients bearing locally advanced or metastatic solid tumors or metastatic breast cancer examined MK-2206 given with and paclitaxel (Taxol). Finally MK-2206 and selumetinib administration was tested in phase I studies in patients with advanced CRC. Other cancer indications that are investigated MK-2206 as single agent or in combination with chemotherapy in phase I studies include prostate cancer,  head and neck cancer, large B cell lymphoma, leukemias such as AML, and melanoma.

Ridaforolimus (AP23573/MK-8669,; Taltorvic by Merck) – Ridaforolimus is an oral mTOR inhibitor found in several clinical trials. A compressive phase III experiment was conducted with ridaforolimus in metastatic STS and metastatic bone sarcomas (SUCCEED – Sarcoma Multi-Center Clinical Evaluation of the Efficacy of Ridaforolimus) by Merck and Ariad Pharmaceuticals that had presented positive data at the beginning showing that patients that have received ridaforolimus had a median progression-free survival (PFC) – the primary endpoint of the study – of 17.7 weeks compared with 14.6 weeks for those received placebo. However, FDA’s oncologic drugs advisory committee (ODAC) panel (March 2012) did not approved the use of ridaforolimus as maintenance therapy for patients with metastatic soft-tissue sarcoma or bone sarcoma. The committee did not think that a significant difference was observed between the groups in terms of OS and although patients did experience a longer disease-free period before their cancer returned when receiving ridaforolimus, the delay was not significant. There was also a concern regarding side effects. In a complete response letter, (June 2012) the FDA did not approve the SUCCEED application in its present form, therefore, Merck formally withdrawn the marketing authorization application for ridaforolimus for sarcoma. However, Merck still continue experimenting ridaforolimus in other cancer indications. A phase II study is conducted in breast cancer patients examining ridaforolimus alone, ridaforolimus + dalotuzumab, or ridaforolimus + Exemestane. Another phase II study is conducted in female adult patients harboring recurrent or persistent endometrial cancer. A third Phase II study is examining ridaforolimus in patients with taxane-resistant androgen-independent prostate cancer. Many phase I experiments are conducted with ridaforolimus among them: experiment in pediatric patients with solid tumors treated with dalotuzumab given alone or in combination with ridaforolimus; Bicalutamide and ridaforolimus in men with prostate cancer; Combinations of carboplatin/paclitaxel/ridaforolimus in endometrial and ovarian tumors; Safety study examining ridaforolimus  in patients with progressive or recurrent glioma, and others. Given the consequences as with the SUCCEED experiment; it remains to see whether ridaforolimus alone or in combinations would be approved and be valid in the clinical arena.

RX-0201 (Archexin) by Rexahn Pharmaceuticals is an antisense oligonucleotide directed toward Akt1 mRNA. RX-0201 was demonstrated to significantly downregulated the expression of AKT1 at both the mRNA and protein levels. In addition combined treatment of RX-0201with several cytotoxic drugs resulted in an additive growth inhibition of Caki-1 clear cell carcinoma cells. In addition, preclinical experiments demonstrated that RX-0201 given at nano-molars as a single agent induced substantial growth inhibition in various types of human cancer cells. Furthermore, in vivo studies using nude mice xenografts have resulted in significant inhibition of tumor growth and tumor formation treated with RX-0201. Therefore RX-0201 was further tested in phase I studies in patients with solid tumors. The only dose limiting toxicity (DLT) observed was Grade 3 fatigue. Phase II studies of RX-0201 were approved thus in advanced RCC. Furthermore, another phase II study was completed last year with encouraging results.  This phase II trial was conducted in metastatic pancreatic cancer, assessing the combination of RX-0201 and gemcitabine. The study enrolled 31 patients and the primary endpoint was overall survival following 4 cycles of therapy with a 6-month follow-up. The study demonstrated that treatment with RX-0201 in combination with gemcitabine resulted in a median survival of 9.1 months compared to the published survival data of 5.65 months for gemcitabine given alone. The most frequently side effects were constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, and pyrexia, regardless of relatedness.

BKM120 – by Novartis is an oral selective class-I PI3K inhibitor, induces its inhibition in an ATP-competitive manner, thereby inhibiting the production of the secondary messenger PIP3 and activation of downstream signaling pathway. BKM120 was shown to induce pro-apoptotic effects in vitro and anti-tumor activity in vivo. BKM120 is enrolled in many clinical trials at all levels for several cancer indications. Phase I experiments are performed with the following cancers: CRC in combination with panitumumab; RCC; breast cancer (HR+/HER2+); breast cancer (triple negative, recurrent); ovarian cancer; and leukemias.  Phase II trials include: endometrial cancer; metastatic NSCLC; malignant melanoma (Braf V600 mutated); prostate; and glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

A phase III study is currently enrolled with postmenopausal breast cancer patients with HR+/HER2- (local, advanced or metastatic), examining BKM120 in combination with fulvestrant. In preliminary clinical experiments activity was observed with BKM120 in patients with breast cancer, as a single agent or in combination with letrozole, or trastuzumab. In this phase III study, postmenopausal women with HR+/HER2- breast cancer whom were treated with aromatase inhibitor (AI), and are refractory to endocrine and mTOR inhibition (mTORi) combination therapy, are randomized to receive continuous BKM120 or placebo daily, with fulvestrant. The rational for this experiment is that the use of PI3K inhibition may overcome resistance to mTORi in breast cancer by targeting the PI3K pathway upstream.  The primary endpoint of the trail is PFS and the secondary endpoint is OS. Other secondary endpoints are overall response rate and clinical benefit rate, safety, pharmacokinetics of BKM120, and patient-reported quality of life.

CAL-101 (Idelalisib) – by Gilead Sciences is an orally bio-available, small molecule inhibitor of PI3K delta proposed for the treatment hematologic malignancies. In preclinical efficacy studies, CAL-101 inhibited the PI3K pathway and decreased cellular proliferation in primary CLL and AML cells, and in a range of NHL cell lines. The delta form of PI3K is expressed primarily in blood-cell lineages, including cells that cause or mediate hematologic malignancies, inflammation, autoimmune diseases and allergies. Therefore, CAL-101 as specific inhibitor of the PI3K-delta is expected to have therapeutic effects in these diseases without inhibiting PI3K signaling that is critical to the normal function of healthy cells. A variety of studies have shown that inhibition of other PI3K forms can cause significant toxicities, particularly with respect to glucose metabolism, which is essential for normal cell activity. CAL-101 was shown to block constitutive PI3K signaling, resulting in decreased phosphorylation of Akt and other downstream effectors, an increase in PARP and caspase cleavage, and an induction of apoptosis across a broad range of immature and mature B-cell malignancies. Importantly, CAL-101 does not promote apoptosis in normal T cells or NK cells, nor does it diminish antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) but decreased activated T-cell production of various inflammatory and anti-apoptotic cytokines. These findings provide rationale for the clinical development of CAL-101 as a first-in-class targeted therapy for CLL and related B-cell proliferative disorders. Indeed several clinical trials are currently enrolled for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, NHL, and CLL. Phase III clinical trials for CLL are now recruiting patients aimed to examine CAL-101 in combination with Bendamustine and Rituximab in one study;  CAL-101 + Rituximab;  and the combinations of CAL-101 with Ofatumumab in third phase III study. Both Rituximab and Ofatumumab are monoclonal Abs for CD20, which is primarily found on the surface of B cells. In addition, another phase III study of CAL-101 in combination with Bendamustine and Rituximab for indolent NHLs is also now recruiting patients.

(iii) Other Akt pathway inhibitors in clinical development.

There are dozens of agents targeting Akt pathway that are found at preclinical and clinical development. The various inhibitors are targeting various elements of the Akt pathway including: Akt itself, PI3K, mTOR, and PDK1. Most of these agents are small molecules inhibitors, some are extracts while others are synthetic, but also include an antisense oligonucleotide (RX-0201 to Akt).

The list below describes shortly agents which currently reached phase II stage and their relevant indications:

XL-147 – sponsored by Sanofi, small molecule-pan PI3K inhibitor for breast cancer and endometrial cancer.

XL-765 – also of Sanofi, inhibitor of the activity of PI3K and mTOR, for HR+/HER2- breast cancer patients.

BN108 – by Bionovo, an aqueous extract of Anemarrhena asphodeloides, is an orally available dual inhibitor, that induces apoptotic cancer cell death by rapid inactivation of both Akt and mTOR pathways, for breast cancer.

GDC-0068 – by Genentech, is an orally available small molecule pan-Akt inhibitor, for prostate cancer.

BEZ235 – by Novartis is a dual ATP-competitive PI3K and mTOR inhibitor, prevents PI3K signaling and inhibits growth of cancer cells with activating PI3K mutations. Phase II study is recruiting patients with metastatic or unresectable malignant PEComa (perivascular epithelioid cell tumors), other phase II include endometrial cancer indications and metastatic HR+/HER2-breast cancer patients.

BAY 80-6946 – is a pan class I PI3K inhibitor by BayerPhase II for NHL, currently recruiting.

Nelfinavir  – by ViiV Healthcare is an HIV protease inhibitor found to downregulate Akt phosphorylation by inhibiting proteasomal activity and inducing the unfolded protein response (UPR). HIV-1 protease inhibitor was found induces growth arrest and apoptosis of human prostate cancer cells in vitro and in vivo in conjunction with blockade of androgen receptor, STAT3 and AKT signaling. A phase I/II trial is enrolled for patients with locally advanced CRC to test Nelfinavir in combination with chemo/radiotherapy.

Triciribine  Triciribine phosphate monohydrate (TCN-PM) is a specific AKT inhibitor used also in the basic research arena but undergo also several clinical studies. Currently a phase II sponsored by Cahaba Pharmaceuticals is recruiting, to examine triciribine with paclitaxel in patients with locally advanced breast cancer. And a phase I/II experiment of combination with carboplatin in ovarian patients is planned.

GSK2110183 – by GlaxoSmithKline  is an oral panAkt inhibitor. Phase II is recruiting subjects with solid tumors and hematologic malignancies.

(iv) Conclusive remarks

Given the broaden arsenal of agents targeting Akt that are in pre-clinical and clinical development, it is extremely important to figure out how to use them optimally and to elucidate carefully which of them have the greatest potential to proceed into advanced stages of clinical trials and to clinical approval.  One of the various considerations in developing valid Akt inhibitors for the clinic use should be choosing a relevant cancer in which Akt has a central role in its development/propagation (e.g. mRCC). Since there is cross-talk between the Akt pathway to other pathways especially by involvement of RTKs (e.g. VEGFR), there is a rational to apply Akt inhibitions in cancer indications that had good results with inhibition of RTKs where combinations of Akt with agents such as sunitinib, could results in a synergistic anti-cancer effect. The combinations of Akt inhibitors with RTKs inhibitors could also overcome the compensate reaction to agents such as Herceptin that confer resistance. It is important to introduce efficient Akt inhibitor on the background of existing anti-cancer chemotherapies where Akt inhibitors can complement these therapies by circumvent frequent resistance to these drugs. Finally, the developing of biomarkers for a validation of the efficacy of candidate Akt inhibitor to be developed in further advance clinical studies for specific cancer indications is essentially needed, to ensure that accurate efforts would be invested at the most validate Akt inhibitors. Such biomarkers could be levels of phosphorylated Akt in blood or mRNA levels to be monitored upon treatment with Akt inhibitors and the correlation to the efficacy of these inhibitors, and that is besides of their prognostic value. The status of mutations of PI3K and PTEN could also serve as a marker for the efficiency of Akt inhibitors and how to use them optimally.

 

References

1. Song G, Ouyang G, Bao S (2005) The activation of Akt/PKB signaling pathway and cell survival. J Cell Mol Med 9 (1):59-71

2. Gonzalez E, McGraw TE (2009) The Akt kinases: isoform specificity in metabolism and cancer. Cell Cycle 8 (16):2502-2508

3. Vivanco I, Sawyers CL (2002) The phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase AKT pathway in human cancer. Nat Rev Cancer 2 (7):489-501

4. Altomare DA, Testa JR (2005) Perturbations of the AKT signaling pathway in human cancer. Oncogene 24 (50):7455-7464

5. She QB, Halilovic E, Ye Q, Zhen W, Shirasawa S, Sasazuki T, Solit DB, Rosen N (2010) 4E-BP1 is a key effector of the oncogenic activation of the AKT and ERK signaling pathways that integrates their function in tumors. Cancer Cell 18 (1):39-51

6. Kim D, Dan HC, Park S, Yang L, Liu Q, Kaneko S, Ning J, He L, Yang H, Sun M, Nicosia SV, Cheng JQ (2005) AKT/PKB signaling mechanisms in cancer and chemoresistance. Front Biosci 10:975-987

7. Pal SK, Reckamp K, Yu H, Figlin RA (2010) Akt inhibitors in clinical development for the treatment of cancer. Expert Opin Investig Drugs 19 (11):1355-1366

8. Hsieh AC, Truitt ML, Ruggero D (2011) Oncogenic AKTivation of translation as a therapeutic target. Br J Cancer 105 (3):329-336

9. Alexander W (2011) Inhibiting the Akt pathway in cancer treatment. P T.  April; 36(4): 225–227

10. LoPiccolo J, Blumenthal GM, Bernstein WB, Dennis PA.(2008) Targeting the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway: effective combinations and clinical considerations. Drug Resist Updat.  Feb-Apr;11(1-2):32-50

11. Weigelt B and Downward J (2012) Genomic Determinants of PI3K Pathway Inhibitor Response in Cancer. Front Oncol. 2012;2:109

12. Janna Elizabeth Hutz. Genetic analysis of the PI3k/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway. udini.proquest.com

Resources

New medicine Oncology KnowledgeBASE (nmOK)

ClinicalTrials.gov

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AKT signaling variable effects. Reporter: Larry H Bernstein, MD

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Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter

A Pot[age] to Die For

A Pot[age] to Die For (Photo credit: jazzijava)

Neurodegerative Disease
Tumeric-Derived Compound Curcumin May Treat Alzheimer’s
Curry chemical shows promise for treating the memory-robbing disease
By Lauren K. Wolf
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: alternative medicine, dietary supplements, curcumin, tumeric, Alzheimer’s disease

CURRY WONDER
Curcumin, derived from the rootstalk of the turmeric plant, not only gives Indian dishes their color but might treat Alzheimer’s.
Credit: Shutterstock
More than 5 million people in the U.S. currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. And according to the Alz­heimer’s Association, the situation is only going to get worse.
By 2050, the nonprofit estimates, up to 16 million Americans will have the memory-robbing disease. It will cost the U.S. $1.1 trillion annually to care for them unless a successful therapy is found.
Pharmaceutical companies have invested heavily in developing Alzheimer’s drugs, many of which target amyloid-β, a peptide that misfolds and clumps in the brains of patients. But so far, no amyloid-β-targeted medications have been successful. Expectation for the most advanced drugs—bapineu­zumab from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson and solanezumab from Eli Lilly & Co.—are low on the basis of lackluster data from midstage clinical trials. That sentiment was reinforced last week when bapineuzumab was reported to have failed the first of four Phase III studies.
Even if these late-stage hopefuls do somehow work, they won’t come cheap, says Gregory M. Cole, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. These drugs “would cost patients tens of thousands of dollars per year,” he estimates. That hefty price tag stems from bapineuzumab and solanezumab being costly-to-manufacture monoclonal antibodies against amyloid-β.
“There’s a great need for inexpensive Alzheimer’s treatments,” as well as a backup plan if pharma fails, says Larry W. Baum, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As a result, he says, a great many researchers have turned their attention to less pricy alternatives, such as compounds from plants and other natural sources.
Curcumin, a spice compound derived from the rootstalk of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), has stood out among some of the more promising naturally derived candidates.

When administered to mice that develop Alzheimer’s symptoms, curcumin decreases inflammation and reactive oxygen species in the rodents’ brains, researchers have found. The compound also inhibits the aggregation of troublesome amyloid-β strands among the animals’ nerve cells. But the development of curcumin as an Alzheimer’s drug has been stymied, scientists say, both by its low uptake in the body and a lack of funds for effective clinical trials—obstacles researchers are now trying to overcome.
In addition to contributing to curry dishes’ yellow color and pungent flavor, curcumin has been a medicine in India for thousands of years. Doctors practicing traditional Hindu medicine admire turmeric’s active ingredient for its anti-inflammatory properties and have used it to treat patients for ailments including digestive disorders and joint pain.
Only in the 1970s did Western researchers catch up with Eastern practices and confirm curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties in the laboratory. Scientists also eventually determined that the polyphenolic compound is an antioxidant and has chemotherapeutic activity.

Bharat B. Aggarwal, a professor at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, says curcumin is an example of a pleiotropic agent: It has a number of different effects and interacts with many targets and biochemical pathways in the body. He and his group have discovered that one important molecule targeted and subsequently suppressed by curcumin is NF-κB, a transcription factor that switches on the body’s inflammatory response when activated (J. Biol. Chem., DOI: 10.1074/jbc.270.42.24995).
Aside from NF-κB, curcumin seems to interact with several other molecules in the inflammatory pathway, a biological activity that Aggarwal thinks is advantageous. “All chronic diseases are caused by dysregulation of multiple targets,” he says. “Chemists don’t yet know how to design a drug that hits multiple targets.” With curcumin, “Mother Nature has already provided a compound that does so.”
Curcumin’s pleiotropy also brought it to the attention of UCLA’s Cole during the early 1990s while he was searching for possible Alzheimer’s therapeutics. “That was before we knew about amyloid-β” and its full role in Alzheimer’s, he says. “We were working on the disease from an oxidative damage and inflammation point of view—two processes implicated in aging.”
When Cole and his wife, Sally A. Frautschy, also at UCLA, searched the literature for compounds that could tackle both of these age-related processes, curcumin jumped out at them. It also didn’t hurt that the incidence of Alz­heimer’s in India, where large amounts of curcumin are consumed regularly, is lower than in other parts of the developing world (Lancet Neurol., DOI:10.1016/s1474-4422(08)70169-8).

In 2001, Cole, Frautschy, and colleagues published the first papers that demonstrated curcumin’s potential to treat neurodegenerative disease (Neurobiol. Aging, DOI: 10.1016/s0197-4580(01)00300-1; J. Neurosci.2001, 8370). The researchers studied the effects of curcumin on rats that had amyloid-β injected into their brains, as well as mice engineered to develop amyloid brain plaques. In both cases, curcumin suppressed oxidative tissue damage and reduced amyloid-β deposits.
Those results, Cole says, “turned us into curcuminologists.”
Although the UCLA team observed that curcumin decreased amyloid plaques in animal models, at the time, the researchers weren’t sure of the molecular mechanism involved.
Soon after the team’s first results were published, Cole recalls, a colleague brought to his attention the structural similarity between curcumin and the dyes used to stain amyloid plaques in diseased brain tissue. When Cole and Frautschy tested the spice compound, they saw that it, too, could stick to aggregated amyloid-β. “We thought, ‘Wow, not only is curcumin an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, but it also might be an anti-amyloid drug,’ ” he says.
In 2004, a group in Japan demonstrated that submicromolar concentrations of curcumin in solution could inhibit aggregation of amyloid-β and break up preformed fibrils of the stuff (J. Neurosci. Res., DOI: 10.1002/jnr.20025). Shortly after that, the UCLA team demonstrated the same (J. Biol. Chem., DOI: 10.1074/jbc.m404751200).
As an Alzheimer’s drug, however, it’s unclear how important it is that the spice compound inhibits amyloid-β aggregation, Cole says. “When you have something that’s so pleiotropic,” he adds, “it’s hard to know” which of its modes of action is most effective.
Having multiple targets may be what helps curcumin have such beneficial, neuroprotective effects, says David R. Schubert, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, Calif. But its pleiotropy can also be a detriment, he contends.
The pharmaceutical world, Schubert says, focuses on designing drugs aimed at hitting single-target molecules with high affinity. “But we don’t really know what ‘the’ target for curcumin is,” he says, “and we get knocked for it on grant requests.”
Another problem with curcumin is poor bioavailability. When ingested, UCLA’s Cole says, the compound gets converted into other molecular forms, such as curcumin glucuronide or curcumin sulfate. It also gets hydrolyzed at the alkaline and neutral pHs present in many areas of the body. Not much of the curcumin gets into the bloodstream, let alone past the blood-brain barrier, in its pure, active form, he adds.

Unfortunately, neither Cole nor Baum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong realized the poor bioavailability until they had each launched a clinical trial of curcumin. So the studies showed no significant difference between Alzheimer’s patients taking the spice compound and those taking a placebo (J. Clin. Psychopharma­col., DOI: 10.1097/jcp.0b013e318160862c).
“But we did show curcumin was safe for patients,” Baum says, finding a silver lining to the blunder. “We didn’t see any adverse effects even at high doses.”

Some researchers, such as Salk’s Schubert, are tackling curcumin’s low bioavailability by modifying the compound to improve its properties. Schubert and his group have come up with a molecule, called J147, that’s a hybrid of curcumin and cyclohexyl-bisphenol A. Like Cole and coworkers, they also came upon the compound not by initially screening for the ability to interact with amyloid-β, but by screening for the ability to alleviate age-related symptoms.

The researchers hit upon J147 by exposing cultured Alzheimer’s nerve cells to a library of compounds and then measuring changes to levels of biomarkers for oxidative stress, inflammation, and nerve growth. J147 performed well in all categories. And when given to mice engineered to accumulate amyloid-β clumps in their brains, the hybrid molecule prevented memory loss and reduced formation of amyloid plaques over time (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027865).

Other researchers have tackled curcumin’s poor bioavailability by reformulating it. Both Baum and Cole have encapsulated curcumin in nanospheres coated with either polymers or lipids to protect the compound from modification after ingestion. Cole tells C&EN that by packaging the curcumin in this way, he and his group have gotten micromolar quantities of it into the bloodstream of humans. The researchers are now preparing for a small clinical trial to test the formulation on patients with mild cognitive impairment, who are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

An early-intervention human study such as this one comes with its own set of challenges, Cole says. People with mild cognitive impairment “have good days and bad days,” he says. A large trial over a long period would be the best way to get any meaningful data, he adds.  Such a trial can cost up to $100 million, a budget big pharma might be able to scrape together but that is far out of reach for academics funded by grants, Cole says. “If you’re down at the level of what an individual investigator can do, you’re running a small trial,” he says, “and even if the result is positive, it might be inconclusive” because of its small size or short duration. That’s one of the reasons the curcumin work is slow-going, Cole contends.
NIH-Funded Research Provides New Clues on How ApoE4 Affects Alzheimer’s Risk
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Researchers found that ApoE4 triggers an inflammatory reaction that weakens the blood-brain barrier.
Common variants of the ApoE gene are strongly associated with the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but the gene’s role in the disease has been unclear.

Now, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have found that in mice, having the most risky variant of ApoE damages the blood vessels that feed the brain.

The researchers found that the high-risk variant, ApoE4, triggers an inflammatory reaction that weakens the blood-brain barrier, a network of cells and other components that lines brain’s brain vessels.

Normally, this barrier allows nutrients into the brain and keeps harmful substances out.

The study appears in Nature, and was led by Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Neurodegeneration and Regeneration at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

“Understanding the role of ApoE4 in Alzheimer’s disease may be one of the most important avenues to a new therapy,” Dr. Zlokovic said. “Our study shows that ApoE4 triggers a cascade of events that damages the brain’s vascular system,” he said, referring to the system of blood vessels that supply the brain.

The ApoE gene encodes a protein that helps regulate the levels and distribution of cholesterol and other lipids in the body. The gene exists in three varieties.

ApoE2 is thought to play a protective role against both Alzheimer’s and heart disease, ApoE3 is believed to be neutral, and ApoE4 confers a higher risk for both conditions.

Outside the brain, the ApoE4 protein appears to be less effective than other versions at clearing away cholesterol; however, inside the brain, exactly how ApoE4 contributes to Alzheimer’s disease has been a mystery.

Dr. Zlokovic and his team studied several lines of genetically engineered mice, including one that lacks the ApoE gene and three other lines that produce only human ApoE2, ApoE3 or ApoE4. Mice normally have only a single version of ApoE.

The researchers found that mice whose bodies made only ApoE4, or made no ApoE at all, had a leaky blood-brain barrier. With the barrier compromised, harmful proteins in the blood made their way into the mice’s brains, and after several weeks, the researchers were able to detect loss of small blood vessels, changes in brain function, and a loss of connections between brain cells.

“The study demonstrates that damage to the brain’s vascular system may play a key role in Alzheimer’s disease, and highlights growing recognition of potential links between stroke and Alzheimer’s-type dementia,” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., a program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which helped fund the research. “It also suggests that we might be able to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease among ApoE4 carriers by improving their vascular health.”

The researchers also found that ApoE2 and ApoE3 help control the levels of an inflammatory molecule called cyclophilin A (CypA), but ApoE4 does not. Levels of CypA were raised about five-fold in blood vessels of mice that produce only ApoE4.

The excess CypA then activated an enzyme, called MMP-9, which destroys protein components of the blood-brain barrier. Treatment with the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine A, which inhibits CypA, preserved the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and lessened damage to the brain.

An inhibitor of the MMP-9 enzyme had similar beneficial effects. In prior studies, inhibitors of this enzyme have been shown to reduce brain damage after stroke in animal models.

“These findings point to cyclophilin A as a potential new drug target for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Suzana Petanceska, Ph.D., a program director at NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), which also funded Dr. Zlokovic’s study.

“Many population studies have shown an association between vascular risk factors in mid-life, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and the risk for Alzheimer’s in late-life. We need more research aimed at deepening our understanding of the mechanisms involved and to test whether treatments that reduce vascular risk factors may be helpful against Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, and affects more than 5 million Americans. A hallmark of the disease is a toxic protein fragment called beta-amyloid that accumulates in clumps, or plaques, within the brain.

Gene variations that cause higher levels of beta-amyloid are associated with a rare type of Alzheimer’s that appears early in life, between age 30 and 60.

However, it is the ApoE4 gene variant that is most strongly tied to the more common, late-onset type of Alzheimer’s disease. Inheriting a single copy of ApoE4 from a parent increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about three-fold. Inheriting two copies, one from each parent, increases the risk by about 12-fold.

Dr. Zlokovic’s study and others point to a complex interplay between beta-amyloid and ApoE4. On the one hand, beta-amyloid is known to build up in and damage blood vessels and cause bleeding into the brain.

On the other hand, Dr. Zlokovic’s data suggest that ApoE4 can damage the vascular system independently of beta-amyloid. He theorizes that this damage makes it harder to clear beta-amyloid from the brain.

Some therapies under investigation for Alzheimer’s focus on destroying amyloid plaques, but therapies designed to compensate for ApoE4 might help prevent the plaques from forming, he said.

Compound Could Become Alzheimer’s Treatment
Thu, 10/11/2012 – 1:29pm
A new molecule designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease has significant promise and is potentially the safest to date, according to researchers.

Purdue University professor Arun Ghosh designed the molecule, which is a highly potent beta-secretase inhibitor with unique features that ensure it goes only to its target and does not affect healthy physiological processes, he said.

“This molecule maintains the disease-fighting properties of earlier beta-secretase inhibitors, but is much less likely to cause harmful side effects,” said Ghosh, the Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. “The selectivity we achieved is unprecedented, which gives it great promise for the long-term medication required to treat Alzheimer’s. Each time a treatment misses its disease target and instead interacts with a healthy cell or molecule, damage is done that we call toxicity. Even low levels of this toxicity could build up over years and years of treatment, and an Alzheimer’s patient would need to be treated for the rest of his or her life.”

The new molecule shows a 7,000-fold selectivity for its target enzyme, which far surpasses the benchmark of a 1,000-fold selectivity for a viable treatment molecule, and dwarfs the selectivity values in the hundreds for past beta-secretase inhibitors, he said. A paper detailing the work will be published in an upcoming Alzheimer’s research issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry and is currently available online. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.

Beta-secretase inhibitors, which could allow for intervention in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, have promise as a potential treatment. Several drugs based on this molecular target have made it to clinical trials, including one based on a molecule Ghosh designed previously. These molecules prevent the first step in a chain of events that leads to the formation of amyloid plaque in the brain, fibrous clumps of toxic proteins that are believed to cause the disease’s devastating symptoms.

The National Institute on Aging estimates that 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to dementia by affecting parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.

“Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys the brain and also destroys the quality of life for those who suffer from it,” Ghosh said. “It eventually robs people of their ability to recognize their own spouse or child and to complete basic tasks necessary for independence, like getting dressed. It is a truly devastating disease for those who suffer from it and for their friends and loved ones.”

Earlier versions of the beta-secretase inhibitor were able to stop and even reverse the progression of amyloid plaques in tests on mice, but potency and selectivity are only two of the three pillars of a viable Alzheimer’s treatment, Ghosh said. It has yet to be shown whether this molecule possesses the third pillar, the ability to be turned into an easily administered drug that passes through the blood-brain barrier.

Ghosh collaborates with Jordan Tang, the J.G. Puterbaugh Chair in Medical Research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, who in 2000 identified beta-secretase and its role in the progression of Alzheimer’s. Later that year Ghosh designed his first molecule that bound to and inhibited the activity of the enzyme. He has strived to create the needed improvements ever since.

Ghosh bypasses the usual lengthy process of trial and error in finding useful inhibitor molecules by using a structure-based design strategy. He uses the structures of the inhibitor bound to the enzyme as a guide to what molecular features are important for desirable and undesirable characteristics. Then he removes, replaces and adds molecular groups to amplify the desirable and eliminate the undesirable.

“I believe structure-based design is vital to the development of new and improved medicine,” said Ghosh, who also is a member of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. “These strategies have the potential to eliminate enormous costs and time needed in traditional random screening protocols for drug development. Structure-based strategies allow us to design molecules that do precisely what we need them to do with fewer undesirable side effects.”

Tang performed the X-ray crystallography and captured the crystal structures to reveal important insights and serve as a guide for Ghosh’s designs.

“Developing inhibitors into clinically useful drugs is an evolutionary process,” Tang said. “We learn what works and what doesn’t along the way, and the knowledge permits us to do better in the next step. The miracles of modern medicine are built on top of excellent scientific findings. We try to do good science and know that the consequence will be a better chance for conquering diseases and improving lives.”

Beta-secretase belongs to a class of enzymes called aspartyl proteases. Research into beta-secretase inhibitors faced setbacks when other aspartyl proteases similar in structure, called memapsin 1 and cathepsin D, were discovered and found to be involved in many important physiological processes. Earlier designed beta-secretase inhibitors were found also to work against the biologically necessary enzymes.

Ghosh’s team focused on developing ways to make the inhibitor more selective so that it would avoid these other, physiologically important enzymes. They compared the structures of beta-secretase and memapsin 1 as they interacted with the inhibitor to find an active area unique only to beta-secretase. Then they added a functional molecular feature that targets and interacts with the unique area, making the inhibitor more attractive to beta-secretase and less attractive to the other enzymes.

“The added feature serves as a bait on the inhibitor molecule that entices beta-secretase and also grabs onto it tightly, greatly enhancing its selectivity,” he said. “This is a fundamental insight into the origins of selectivity and ways to increase it.”
Ghosh said this work highlights an important purpose of academic research.

“Academic research lays out and shares the fundamentals to advance drug discovery,” he said. “Advances in treatment are built upon the basic research happening at universities.”

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