PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10) is a tumour suppressor that functions as a PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 3-phosphatase to inhibit cell proliferation, survival and growth by antagonizing PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase)-dependent signalling. Recent work has begun to focus attention on potential biological functions of the protein phosphatase activity of PTEN and on the possibility that some of its functions are phosphatase-independent. We discuss here the structural and regulatory mechanisms that account for the remarkable specificity of PTEN with respect to its PtdIns substrates and how it avoids the soluble headgroups of PtdIns that occur commonly in cells. Secondly we discuss the concept of PTEN as a constitutively active enzyme that is subject to negative regulation both physiologically and pathologically. Thirdly, we review the evidence that PTEN functions as a dual specificity phosphatase with discrete lipid and protein substrates. Lastly we present a current model of how PTEN may participate in the control of cell migration.

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