The insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R) governs several signaling pathways for cell proliferation, survival, and anti-apoptosis. Thus, targeting IGF-1R appears as a reasonable rationale for tumor treatment. However, clinical studies showed that inhibition of IGF-1R has very limited efficacy due to the development of resistance to IGF-1R blockade in tumor cells. Here, we discovered that prolonged treatment of colon cancer cells with IGF-1R inhibitors (BMS-754807 and GSK1838705A) stimulates p70 KDa ribosomal protein S6 kinase 1 (p70S6K1) activation, a well-known kinase signaling for cell survival. We also found that p70S6K1 activation by IGF-1R inhibition is independent of K-Ras and PIK3CA mutations that frequently occur in colon cancer. Besides the increased p70S6K1 phosphorylation, the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 and 2 (MEK1/2) was elevated in the cells treated with BMS-754807. Interestingly, the increases in MEK1/2 and p70S6K1 phosphorylation were also observed when cells were subjected to the treatment of AKT inhibitor or genetic knockdown of AKT2 but not AKT1, suggesting that AKT2 inhibition stimulates MEK1/2 phosphorylation to activate p70S6K1. Conversely, inhibition of MEK1/2 by MEK1/2 inhibitor (U0126) or knockdown of MEK1 and MEK2 by corresponding mek1 and mek2 siRNA enhanced AKT phosphorylation, indicating mutual inhibition between AKT and MEK. Furthermore, the combination of BMS-754807 and U0126 efficiently decreased the cell viability and increased cleaved caspase 3 and apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. Our data suggest that the treatment of colon tumor cells with IGF-1R inhibitors stimulates p70S6K1 activity via MEK1/2 to promote survival, providing a new strategy for colorectal cancer therapeutics.

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Published in Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, v. 5, issue 1, article no. 153.

© The Author(s) 2020

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This work was partially supported by the Finish Line grant of Markey Cancer Center to H.S.Y as well as the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Biospecimen Procurement and Translational Pathology, and Flow Cytometry and Immune Monitoring Shared Resource facilities of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (P30CA177558).

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