Mini review: Opposing pathologies in cancer and Alzheimer's disease: Does the PI3K/Akt pathway provide clues?

RM Barker, Jeff M. P. Holly, Kalina M Biernacka, Shelley J Allen Allen-Birt, Claire M Perks*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


This minireview is a brief overview examining the roles of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) and the PI3K/Akt pathway in two apparently unconnected diseases: Alzheimer’s dementia and cancer. For both, increased age is a major risk factor, and, in accord with the global rise in average life expectancy, their prevalence is also increasing. Cancer, however, involves excessive cell proliferation and metastasis, whereas Alzheimer’s disease (AD) involves cell death and tissue destruction. The apparent ‘inverse’ nature of these disease states is examined here, but also some important commonalities in terms of the PI3K/Akt pathway, glucose utilisation and cell deregulation/death. The focus here is on four key molecules associated with this pathway; notably, the insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS-1), cellular tumour antigen p53 (p53), peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase NIMA-interacting 1 (PIN1) and low-density lipoprotein receptor–related protein-1 (LRP1), all previously identified as potential therapeutic targets for both diseases. The insulin-resistant state, commonly reported in AD brain, results in neuronal glucose deprivation, due to a dampening down of the PI3K/Akt pathway, including overactivity of the mammalian target of rapamycin 1 (mTORC1) complex, hyperphosphorylation of p53 and neuronal death. This contrasts with cancer, where there is overstimulation of the PI3K/Akt pathway and the suppression of mTORC1 and p53, enabling abundant energy and unrestrained cell proliferation. Although these disease states appear to be diametrically opposed, the same key molecules are controlling pathology and, with differential targeting of therapeutics, may yet provide a beneficial outcome for both.
Original languageEnglish
Article number403
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2020

Structured keywords

  • ICEP


  • cancer
  • Alzheimer's
  • PI3K/Akt pathway
  • IGF-1, insulin
  • LRP1
  • PIN1
  • p53


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