Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is a multifunctional serine/threonine kinase that participates in numerous signalling pathways involved in diverse physiological processes. Several of these pathways are implicated in disease pathogenesis, which has prompted efforts to develop GSK3-specific inhibitors for therapeutic applications. However, before now, there has been no strong rationale for targeting GSK3 in malignancies. Here we report pharmacological, physiological and genetic studies that demonstrate an oncogenic requirement for GSK3 in the maintenance of a specific subtype of poor prognosis human leukaemia, genetically defined by mutations of the MLL proto-oncogene. In contrast to its previously characterized roles in suppression of neoplasia-associated signalling pathways, GSK3 paradoxically supports MLL leukaemia cell proliferation and transformation by a mechanism that ultimately involves destabilization of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27(Kip1). Inhibition of GSK3 in a preclinical murine model of MLL leukaemia provides promising evidence of efficacy and earmarks GSK3 as a candidate cancer drug target.
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