BACKGROUND: Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is a central regulator of cellular metabolism, development and growth. GSK3 activity was thought to oppose tumourigenesis, yet recent studies indicate that it may support tumour growth in some cancer types including in non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). We examined the undefined role of GSK3 protein kinase activity in tissue from human NSCLC.
METHODS: The expression and protein kinase activity of GSK3 was determined in 29 fresh frozen samples of human NSCLC and patient-matched normal lung tissue by quantitative immunoassay and western blotting for the phosphorylation of three distinct GSK3 substrates in situ (glycogen synthase, RelA and CRMP-2). The proliferation and sensitivity to the small-molecule GSK3 inhibitor; CHIR99021, of NSCLC cell lines (Hcc193, H1975, PC9 and A549) and non-neoplastic type II pneumocytes was further assessed in adherent culture.
RESULTS: Expression and protein kinase activity of GSK3 was elevated in 41% of human NSCLC samples when compared to patient-matched control tissue. Phosphorylation of GSK3α/β at the inhibitory S21/9 residue was a poor biomarker for activity in tumour samples. The GSK3 inhibitor, CHIR99021 dose-dependently reduced the proliferation of three NSCLC cell lines yet was ineffective against type II pneumocytes.
CONCLUSION: NSCLC tumours with elevated GSK3 protein kinase activity may have evolved dependence on the kinase for sustained growth. Our results provide further important rationale for exploring the use of GSK3 inhibitors in treating NSCLC.