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Gemcitabine resistance in breast cancer cells regulated by PI3K/AKT-mediated cellular proliferation exerts negative feedback via the MEK/MAPK and mTOR pathways

Authors Yang XL, Lin FJ, Guo YJ, Shao Z, Ou ZL

Received 26 February 2014

Accepted for publication 9 April 2014

Published 13 June 2014 Volume 2014:7 Pages 1033—1042


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Xiao Li Yang, Feng Juan Lin, Ya Jie Guo, Zhi Min Shao, Zhou Luo Ou

Key Laboratory of Breast Cancer in Shanghai, Breast Cancer Institute, Cancer Hospital, Department of Oncology, Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University, Shanghai, People's Republic of China

Abstract: Chemoresistance is a major cause of cancer treatment failure and leads to a reduction in the survival rate of cancer patients. Phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/protein kinase B/mammalian target of rapamycin (PI3K/AKT/mTOR) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways are aberrantly activated in many malignant tumors, including breast cancer, which may indicate an association with breast cancer chemoresistance. In this study, we generated a chemoresistant human breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB-231/gemcitabine (simplified hereafter as “231/Gem”), from MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells. Flow cytometry studies revealed that with the same treatment concentration of gemcitabine, 231/Gem cells displayed more robust resistance to gemcitabine, which was reflected by fewer apoptotic cells and enhanced percentage of S-phase cells. Through the use of inverted microscopy, Cell Counting Kit-8, and Transwell assays, we found that compared with parental 231 cells, 231/Gem cells displayed more morphologic projections, enhanced cell proliferative ability, and improved cell migration and invasion. Mechanistic studies revealed that the PI3K/AKT/mTOR and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/MAPK signaling pathways were activated through elevated expression of phosphorylated (p)-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), p-AKT, mTOR, p-mTOR, p-P70S6K, and reduced expression of p-P38 and LC3-II (the marker of autophagy) in 231/Gem in comparison to control cells. However, there was no change in the expression of Cyclin D1 and p-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK). In culture, inhibitors of PI3K/AKT and mTOR, but not of MEK/MAPK, could reverse the enhanced proliferative ability of 231/Gem cells. Western blot analysis showed that treatment with a PI3K/AKT inhibitor decreased the expression levels of p-AKT, p-MEK, p-mTOR, and p-P70S6K; however, treatments with either MEK/MAPK or mTOR inhibitor significantly increased p-AKT expression. Thus, our data suggest that gemcitabine resistance in breast cancer cells is mainly mediated by activation of the PI3K/AKT signaling pathway. This occurs through elevated expression of p-AKT protein to promote cell proliferation and is negatively regulated by the MEK/MAPK and mTOR pathways.

Keywords: chemoresistance, gemcitabine, breast cancer

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