Research ArticleBiochemistry

TGF-β promotes PI3K-AKT signaling and prostate cancer cell migration through the TRAF6-mediated ubiquitylation of p85α

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Science Signaling  04 Jul 2017:
Vol. 10, Issue 486, eaal4186
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aal4186

The TGF-β–PI3K connection

TGF-β signaling stimulates various intracellular pathways that can promote migration in tumor cells. These pathways are generally thought to be either dependent or independent of transcription factors called SMADs. One of the SMAD-independent pathways (PI3K-AKT) is mediated by a direct interaction between PI3K and the TGF-β type I receptor. However, Hamidi et al. found that the TGF-β–induced activation of PI3K depends on another ubiquitin ligase–mediated mechanism and a SMAD protein but is independent of the kinase function of TβRI. The binding of TGF-β to its receptor triggered the recruitment of PI3K and the ubiquitin ligase TRAF6, which polyubiquitylated the regulatory PI3K subunit p85α, thus enabling phosphorylation of the catalytic PI3K subunit p110, but only in the presence of SMAD7. The abundance of ubiquitylated p85α correlated with migration in cultured cells and prostate tumor grade in patient samples. TRAF6 mediates activation of the other “SMAD-independent” (JNK) pathway. These data suggest that, although distinct, the TGF-β signaling pathways are not as insulated from each other as was once thought.


Transforming growth factor–β (TGF-β) is a pluripotent cytokine that regulates cell fate and plasticity in normal tissues and tumors. The multifunctional cellular responses evoked by TGF-β are mediated by the canonical SMAD pathway and by noncanonical pathways, including mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways and the phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase (PI3K)–protein kinase B (AKT) pathway. We found that TGF-β activated PI3K in a manner dependent on the activity of the E3 ubiquitin ligase tumor necrosis factor receptor–associated factor 6 (TRAF6). TRAF6 polyubiquitylated the PI3K regulatory subunit p85α and promoted the formation of a complex between the TGF-β type I receptor (TβRI) and p85α, which led to the activation of PI3K and AKT. Lys63-linked polyubiquitylation of p85α on Lys513 and Lys519 in the iSH2 (inter–Src homology 2) domain was required for TGF-β–induced activation of PI3K-AKT signaling and cell motility in prostate cancer cells and activated macrophages. Unlike the activation of SMAD pathways, the TRAF6-mediated activation of PI3K and AKT was not dependent on the kinase activity of TβRI. In situ proximity ligation assays revealed that polyubiquitylation of p85α was evident in aggressive prostate cancer tissues. Thus, our data reveal a molecular mechanism by which TGF-β activates the PI3K-AKT pathway to drive cell migration.

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