PI3Kinase/Akt signaling is frequently activated in acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and inhibitors of this pathway have shown some promise in both pre-clinical and early clinical studies. In particular, much attention has been focused on components of the mTOR complex as downstream effectors of Akt activation that promote cell proliferation and survival in AML and other malignancies. We have discovered a direct effect of activated and phosphorylated Akt in increasing ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesis in both leukemic cell lines and primary AML cells by a novel pathway that is independent of mTOR. We have defined TIF-90 as a splice variant of TIF-1A, a molecule that tethers RNA Polymerase I to the ribosomal DNA promoter and is required for rRNA synthesis. TIF-90 is localized in the nucleolus and directly co-locates with Pol I in imaging, pull down, and rDNA promoter occupancy studies. Activation and phosphorylation of Akt correlates with high levels of TIF-90 expression and increased TIF-90 occupancy of the rDNA promoter in primary AML cells, while overexpression of constitutively activated Akt (Akt-Myr) increases rRNA synthesis in a TIF-90-dependent fashion in cell lines. Activation of Akt increases the expression of TIF-90 by inhibiting its ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation by the p53 ubiquitin ligase, Mdm2. Furthermore, activated Akt directly inhibits the cleavage of the actin-binding protein, Filamin A, into a 90 kDa fragment that interacts with TIF-90 and prevents it from occupying the rDNA promoter. Expression of the 90 kDa Filamin A cleavage fragment alone is sufficient to inhibit rRNA synthesis by binding to TIF-90. Thus, inhibition of Filamin A cleavage by Akt is associated with increased rRNA synthesis. The Akt inhibitor AZD8055, but not the mTORC1 inhibitor Rapamycin, promotes the cleavage of filamin A, decreasing both TIF-90 occupancy of the rDNA promoter and rRNA synthesis. Examination of 21 primary AML samples reveals an inverse correlation between the phosphorylation of Akt and the cleavage of Filamin A; conversely, AZD8055 inhibits both Akt phosphorylation and rRNA synthesis in these samples while promoting the cleavage of Filamin A. These data demonstrate a novel pathway by which Akt directly enhances rRNA synthesis. This pathway is active in primary AML cells and in cell lines that have high levels of phosphorylated Akt. Inhibition of rRNA synthesis has been shown to result in nucleolar disruption, cell cycle arrest, and ultimately cell death. Our data support an mTOR-independent effect of Akt activation on cell proliferation that would require direct targeting of PI3Kinase or activated Akt to have a major therapeutic effect in AML.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.