Activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) is considered to be a key event upon stimulation of cells with growth factors. Akt is known to be a downstream target of PI3-K when it is activated by nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF induces cell differentiation of PC12 cells as indicated by neurite outgrowth. In order to investigate the role of PI3-K/Akt in NGF-induced differentiation of PC12 cells, we generated cells ectopically expressing constitutively activated (CA), wild type (WT) and dominant negative (DN) forms of Akt. NGF-induced neurite outgrowth was greatly accelerated in the cells expressing CA-Akt, and dramatically inhibited in those expressing DN-Akt. Pre-treatment with an Akt inhibitor, ML-9 [1-(5-chloronaphthalene-1-sulfonyl)-1H- hexahydro-1,4-diazepine], inhibited NGF-induced Akt phosphorylation as well as neurite outgrowth but did not markedly affect the activities of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). The PI3-K inhibitors wortmannin and LY294002 blocked NGF-induced Akt phosphorylation as well as neurite outgrowth. These results indicate that PI3-K/Akt is a positive regulator of NGF-induced neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells.
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