A block in apoptotic cell death is a likely requirement for cancer maintenance. Likewise, drug resistance, one of the key clinical problems in oncology, can often be explained by apoptotic resistance following drug administration. Several signalling pathways can commit cells to death, including intrinsic mitochondrial pathways controlled by the Bcl-2-like proteins, extrinsic Death Receptor-triggered pathways, and Dependence Receptor-initiated pathways. In addition, depending on the cell type, external stimulus and context, various other pro- or anti-survival signalling pathways may become repressed or activated. Proper coordination and conversion into a common cellular response is ensured by various ways of inter-pathway crosstalk. As for most signalling cascades, post-translational control of the signalling proteins involved is mainly achieved by reversible phosphorylation and thus by the coordinated actions of protein kinases and phosphatases. Despite increasing interest in phosphatases as potential tumour suppressors, their role in controlling apoptotic signalling remains poorly understood. Here we review current knowledge about the regulatory functions of Protein Phosphatase type 2A (PP2A) phosphatases in these apoptotic signalling networks. PP2A represents an abundant class of structurally complex Ser/Thr phosphatases which are of particular interest in this context because of their recently established role as genuine tumour suppressors. In line with these tumour suppressive characteristics, PP2A predominantly displays pro-apoptotic functions, although some PP2A complexes also clearly counteract apoptotic cell death. Finally, we speculate how this knowledge might be exploited for therapeutic purposes, in light of pre-clinical pharmacological approaches, currently demonstrated to target PP2A in cancer cells.
Keywords: Akt, apoptosis, Bad, Bcl-2, cancer, ceramide, CIP2A, dependence receptor, FoxO, NF-κB, p53, PP1, PP2A, SET, TNFα, TRAIL
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