Activation of PI3Kα by physiological effectors and by oncogenic mutations: Structural and dynamic effects

Sandra B. Gabelli, Ignacia Echeverria, Megan Alexander, Krisna C. Duong-Ly, Daniele Chaves-Moreira, Evan T. Brower, B. Vogelstein, L. Mario Amzel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


PI3Kα, a heterodimeric lipid kinase, catalyzes the conversion of phosphoinositide-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) to phosphoinositide-3,4,5-trisphosphate (PIP3), a lipid that recruits to the plasma membrane proteins that regulate signaling cascades that control key cellular processes such as cell proliferation, carbohydrate metabolism, cell motility, and apoptosis. PI3Kα is composed of two subunits, p110α and p85, that are activated by binding to phosphorylated receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) or their substrates. The gene coding for p110α, PIK3CA, has been found to be mutated in a large number of tumors; these mutations result in increased PI3Kα kinase activity. The structure of the complex of p110α with a fragment of p85 containing the nSH2 and the iSH2 domains has provided valuable information about the mechanisms underlying the physiological activation of PI3Kα and its pathological activation by oncogenic mutations. This review discusses information derived from x-ray diffraction and theoretical calculations regarding the structural and dynamic effects of mutations in four highly mutated regions of PI3K p110α, as well as the proposed mechanisms by which these mutations increase kinase activity. During the physiological activation of PI3Kα, the phosphorylated tyrosine of RTKs binds to the nSH2 domain of p85, dislodging an inhibitory interaction between the p85 nSH2 and a loop of the helical domain of p110α. Several of the oncogenic mutations in p110α activate the enzyme by weakening this autoinhibitory interaction. These effects involve structural changes as well as changes in the dynamics of the enzyme. One of the most common p110α mutations, H1047R, activates PI3Kα by a different mechanism: it increases the interaction of the enzyme with the membrane, maximizing the access of the PI3Kα to its substrate PIP2, a membrane lipid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalBiophysical Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • PI3K
  • PIK3CA
  • PIK3R1
  • PIP
  • PIP
  • Somatic mutation
  • p85

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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