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Retinoblastoma cells activate the AKT pathway and are vulnerable to the PI3K/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235

Chencheng Xie, Matthew J. Freeman, Huarui Lu, Xiaohong Wang, Colleen L. Forster, Aaron L. Sarver and Timothy C. Hallstrom _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:38084-38098. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.16970

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Chencheng Xie1, Matthew J. Freeman1, Huarui Lu1, Xiaohong Wang1, Colleen L. Forster2, Aaron L. Sarver3 and Timothy C. Hallstrom1

1 Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

2 BioNet, Academic Health Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

3 Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

Correspondence to:

Timothy C. Hallstrom, email:

Keywords: retinoblastoma, AKT, NVP-BEZ235, carboplatin, topotecan

Received: October 19, 2016 Accepted: March 10, 2017 Published: April 08, 2017


Retinoblastoma is a pediatric cancer of the retina most often caused by inactivation of the retinoblastoma (RB1) tumor suppressor gene. We previously showed that Rb1 loss cooperates with either co-activating the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT pathway, or co-deleting Pten, to initiate retinoblastoma tumors in mice. The objectives of this study were to determine if the AKT pathway is activated in human retinoblastomas and the extent that anti-PI3K therapy induces apoptosis in retinoblastoma cells, alone or in combination with the DNA damaging drugs carboplatin and topotecan. Serial sections from human retinoblastoma tissue microarrays containing 27 tumors were stained with antibodies specific to p-AKT, Ki-67, forkhead box O1 (p-FOXO1), and ribosomal protein S6 (p-S6) using immunohistochemistry and each tumor sample scored for intensity. Human retinoblastoma tumors displayed significant correlation between p-AKT intensity with highly proliferative tumors (p = 0.008) that were also highly positive for p-FOXO1 (p = 0.002). Treatment with BEZ235, a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor, reduced phosphorylation levels of the AKT targets p-FOXO and p-S6 and effectively induced apoptosis the Y79 and Weri-1 human retinoblastoma cell lines and in vivo in our retinoblastoma mouse model. Long-term treatment with BEZ235 in vivo using our retinoblastoma-bearing mice induced apoptosis but did not significantly extend the lifespan of the mice. We then co-administered BEZ235 with topotecan and carboplatin chemotherapeutics in vivo, which more effectively induced apoptosis of retinoblastoma, but not normal retinal cells than either treatment alone. Our study has increased the variety of potentially effective targeted treatments that can be considered for human retinoblastoma.

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