The serine/threonine kinase Akt/PKB (protein kinase B) is key for mammalian cell growth, survival, metabolism and oncogenic transformation. The diverse level and tissue expression of its three isoforms, Akt1/PKBα, Akt2/PKBβ and Akt3/PKBγ, make it daunting to identify isoform-specific actions in vivo and even in isolated tissues/cells. To date, isoform-specific knockout and knockdown have been the best strategies to dissect their individual overall functions. In a recent article in the Biochemical Journal, Kajno et al. reported a new strategy to study isoform selectivity in cell lines. Individual Akt/PKB isoforms in 3T3-L1 pre-adipocytes are first silenced via shRNA and stable cellular clones lacking one or the other isoform are selected. The stably silenced isoform is then replaced by a mutant engineered to be refractory to inhibition by MK-2206 (Akt1W80A or Akt2W80A). Akt1W80A or Akt2W80A are functional and effectively recruited to the plasma membrane in response to insulin. The system affords the opportunity to acutely control the activity of the endogenous non-silenced isoform through timely addition of MK-2206. Using this approach, it is confirmed that Akt1/PKBα is the preferred isoform sustaining adipocyte differentiation, but both Akt1/PKBα and Akt2/PKBβ can indistinctly support insulin-dependent FoxO1 (forkhead box O1) nuclear exclusion. Surprisingly, either isoform can also support insulin-dependent glucose transporter (GLUT) 4 translocation to the membrane, in contrast with the preferential role of Akt2/PKBβ assessed by knockdown studies. The new strategy should allow analysis of the plurality of Akt/PKB functions in other cells and in response to other stimuli. It should also be amenable to high-throughput studies to speed up advances in signal transmission by this pivotal kinase.

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