Mutational activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a major player in the pathogenesis of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC patients with constitutively active EGFR mutations eventually develop drug resistance against EGFR tyrosine-kinase inhibitors; therefore, better understandings of key components of mutant EGFR (mtEGFR) signaling are required. Here, we initially observed aberrantly high expression of protein kinase Cα (PKCα) in lung adenocarcinomas, especially those with EGFR mutations, and proceeded to examine the role of PKCα in the regulation of the signaling pathways downstream of mtEGFR. The results showed that NSCLC cell lines with constitutively active EGFR mutations tend to have very or moderately high PKCα levels. Furthermore, PKCα was constitutively activated in HCC827 and H4006 cells which have an EGFR deletion mutation in exon 19. Interestingly, mtEGFR was not required for the induction of PKCα at protein and message levels suggesting that the increased levels of PKCα are due to independent selection. On the other hand, mtEGFR activity was required for robust activation of PKCα. Loss of functions studies revealed that the NSCLC cells rely heavily on PKCα for the activation of the mTORC1 signaling pathway. Unexpectedly, the results demonstrated that PKCα was required for activation of Akt upstream of mTOR but only in cells with the mtEGFR and with the increased expression of PKCα. Functionally, inhibition of PKCα in HCC827 led to caspase-3-dependent apoptosis and a significant decrease in cell survival in response to cellular stress induced by serum starvation. In summary, the results identified important roles of PKCα in regulating mTORC1 activity in lung cancer cells, whereby a primary switching occurs from PKCα-independent to PKCα-dependent signaling in the presence of EGFR mutations. The results present PKCα as a potential synergistic target of personalized treatment for NSCLC with constitutively active mutant forms of EGFR and constitutively active PKCα.
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This work was supported by NCI grant CA97132.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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