NODAL/TGFβ signalling mediates the self-sustained stemness induced by PIK3CAH1047R homozygosity in pluripotent stem cells

Ralitsa R. Madsen, James Longden, Rachel G. Knox, Xavier Robin, Franziska Völlmy, Kenneth G. Macleod, Larissa S. Moniz, Neil O. Carragher, Rune Linding, Bart Vanhaesebroeck, Robert K. Semple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Activating PIK3CA mutations are known “drivers” of human cancer and developmental overgrowth syndromes. We recently demonstrated that the "hotspot" PIK3CAH1047R variant exerts unexpected allele dose-dependent
effects on stemness in human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). In the present study, we combine high-depth transcriptomics, total proteomics and reverse-phase protein arrays to reveal potentially disease-related alterations in heterozygous cells, and to assess the contribution of activated TGFb signalling to the stemness phenotype of homozygous PIK3CAH1047R cells. We demonstrate signalling rewiring as a function of oncogenic PI3K signalling strength, and provide experimental evidence that self-sustained stemness is causally related to enhanced autocrine NODAL/TGFb signalling. A significant transcriptomic signature of TGFb pathway activation in heterozygous PIK3CAH1047R was observed but was modest and was not associated with the stemness phenotype seen in homozygous mutants. Notably, the stemness gene expression in homozygous PIK3CAH1047R iPSCs was reversed by pharmacological inhibition of NODAL/TGFb signalling, but not by
pharmacological PI3Kα pathway inhibition. Altogether, this provides the first in-depth analysis of PI3K signalling in human pluripotent stem cells and directly links strong PI3K activation to developmental NODAL/TGFb signalling. This work illustrates the importance of allele dosage and expression when artificial systems are used to model human genetic disease caused by activating PIK3CA mutations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)dmm.048298
JournalDisease Models and Mechanisms
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2021


  • P13K
  • PIK3CA
  • stemness
  • pluripotent stem cells


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