The p85α protein is best known as the regulatory subunit of class 1A PI3Ks (phosphoinositide 3-kinases) through its interaction, stabilization and repression of p110-PI3K catalytic subunits. PI3Ks play multiple roles in the regulation of cell survival, signalling, proliferation, migration and vesicle trafficking. The present review will focus on p85α, with special emphasis on its important roles in the regulation of PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10) and Rab5 functions. The phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphatase PTEN directly counteracts PI3K signalling through dephosphorylation of PI3K lipid products. Thus the balance of p85α–p110 and p85α–PTEN complexes determines the signalling output of the PI3K/PTEN pathway, and under conditions of reduced p85α levels, the p85α–PTEN complex is selectively reduced, promoting PI3K signalling. Rab5 GTPases are important during the endocytosis, intracellular trafficking and degradation of activated receptor complexes. The p85α protein helps switch off Rab5, and if defective in this p85α function, results in sustained activated receptor tyrosine kinase signalling and cell transformation through disrupted receptor trafficking. The central role for p85α in the regulation of PTEN and Rab5 has widened the scope of p85α functions to include integration of PI3K activation (p110-mediated), deactivation (PTEN-mediated) and receptor trafficking/signalling (Rab5-mediated) functions, all with key roles in maintaining cellular homoeostasis.

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