Accumulated evidence has revealed a tight link between arsenic trioxide (ATO)-induced apoptosis and mitotic arrest in cancer cells. AKT, a serine/threonine kinase frequently over-activated in diverse tumors, plays critical roles in stimulating cell cycle progression, abrogating cell cycle checkpoints, suppressing apoptosis, and regulating mitotic spindle assembly. Inhibition of AKT may therefore enhance ATO cytotoxicity and thus its clinical utility. We show that AKT was activated by ATO in HeLa-S3 cells. Inhibition of AKT by inhibitors of the phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase/AKT pathway significantly enhanced cell sensitivity to ATO by elevating mitotic cell apoptosis. Ectopic expression of the constitutively active AKT1 had no effect on ATO-induced spindle abnormalities but reduced kinetochore localization of BUBR1 and MAD2 and accelerated mitosis exit, prevented mitotic cell apoptosis, and enhanced the formation of micro- or multi-nuclei in ATO-treated cells. These results indicate that AKT1 activation may prevent apoptosis of ATO-arrested mitotic cells by attenuating the function of the spindle checkpoint and therefore allowing the formation of micro- or multi-nuclei in surviving daughter cells. In addition, AKT1 activation upregulated the expression of aurora kinase B (AURKB) and survivin, and depletion of AURKB or survivin reversed the resistance of AKT1-activated cells to ATO-induced apoptosis. Thus, AKT1 activation suppresses ATO-induced mitotic cell apoptosis, despite the presence of numerous spindle abnormalities, probably by upregulating AURKB and survivin and attenuating spindle checkpoint function. Inhibition of AKT therefore effectively sensitizes cancer cells to ATO by enhancing mitotic cell apoptosis.Highlights
▸ AKT prevented ATO-induced mitotic arrest and mitotic cell apoptosis. ▸ Inhibition of AKT sensitized cancer cells to ATO-induced mitotic arrest and apoptosis. ▸ AKT inhibition may be a potential strategy to enhance the clinical utility of ATO.