Elevated SGK1 predicts resistance of breast cancer cells to Akt inhibitors

Eeva M Sommer, Hannah Dry, Darren Cross, Sylvie Guichard, Barry R. Davies, Dario R. Alessi

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    134 Citations (Scopus)


    The majority of human cancers harbour mutations promoting activation of the Akt protein kinase, and Akt inhibitors are being evaluated in clinical trials. An important question concerns the understanding of the innate mechanisms that confer resistance of tumour cells to Akt inhibitors. SGK (serum- and glucocorticoid-regulated kinase) is closely related to Akt and controlled by identical upstream regulators {PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase), PDK1 (phosphoinositide-dependent kinase 1) and mTORC2 [mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) complex 2]}. Mutations that trigger activation of Akt would also stimulate SGK. Moreover, Akt and SGK possess analogous substrate specificities and are likely to phosphorylate overlapping substrates to promote proliferation. To investigate whether cancers possessing high SGK activity could possess innate resistance to Akt-specific inhibitors (that do not target SGK), we analysed SGK levels and sensitivity of a panel of breast cancer cells towards two distinct Akt inhibitors currently in clinical trials (AZD5363 and MK-2206). This revealed a number of Akt-inhibitor-resistant lines displaying markedly elevated SGK1 that also exhibited significant phosphorylation of the SGK1 substrate NDRG1 [N-Myc (neuroblastoma-derived Myc) downstream-regulated gene 1]. In contrast, most Akt-inhibitor-sensitive cell lines displayed low/undetectable levels of SGK1. Intriguingly, despite low SGK1 levels, several Akt-inhibitor-sensitive cells showed marked NDRG1 phosphorylation that was, unlike in the resistant cells, suppressed by Akt inhibitors. SGK1 knockdown markedly reduced proliferation of Akt-inhibitor-resistant, but not -sensitive, cells. Furthermore, treatment of Akt-inhibitor-resistant cells with an mTOR inhibitor suppressed proliferation and led to inhibition of SGK1. The results of the present study suggest that monitoring SGK1 levels as well as responses of NDRG1 phosphorylation to Akt inhibitor administration could have a use in predicting the sensitivity of tumours to compounds that target Akt. Our findings highlight the therapeutic potential that SGK inhibitors or dual Akt/SGK inhibitors might have for treatment of cancers displaying elevated SGK activity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)499-508
    Number of pages10
    JournalBiochemical Journal
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2013


    • Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)
    • n-myc downstream-regulated gene 1 (NDRG1)
    • protein kinase inhibitor
    • phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)
    • signal transduction inhibitor


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