Reviewed February 2014
What is the official name of the PIK3CA gene?
The official name of this gene is “phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase, catalytic subunit alpha.”
PIK3CA is the gene's official symbol. The PIK3CA gene is also known by other names, listed below.
Read more about gene names and symbols on the About page.
What is the normal function of the PIK3CA gene?
The PIK3CA gene provides instructions for making the p110 alpha (p110α) protein, which is one piece (subunit) of an enzyme called phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K). The p110α protein is called the catalytic subunit because it performs the action of PI3K, while the other subunit (produced by a different gene) regulates the enzyme's activity.
Like other kinases, PI3K adds a cluster of oxygen and phosphorus atoms (a phosphate group) to other proteins through a process called phosphorylation. PI3K phosphorylates certain signaling molecules, which triggers a series of additional reactions that transmit chemical signals within cells. PI3K signaling is important for many cell activities, including cell growth and division (proliferation), movement (migration) of cells, production of new proteins, transport of materials within cells, and cell survival. Studies suggest that PI3K signaling may be involved in the regulation of several hormones and may play a role in the maturation of fat cells (adipocytes).
How are changes in the PIK3CA gene related to health conditions?
megalencephaly-capillary malformation syndrome - caused by mutations in the PIK3CA gene
At least 15 mutations in the PIK3CA gene have been found to cause a condition known as megalencephaly-capillary malformation syndrome (MCAP), which is characterized by overgrowth of the brain (megalencephaly) and abnormalities caused by enlargement of small blood vessels in the skin (capillary malformations). Most PIK3CA gene mutations involved in MCAP change single protein building blocks (amino acids) in the p110α protein. The mutations involved in MCAP are not inherited from a parent; they arise randomly in one cell during the early stages of development before birth. As cells continue to divide, some cells will have the mutation and other cells will not. This mixture of cells with and without a genetic mutation is known as mosaicism.
The PIK3CA gene mutations involved in MCAP lead to production of an altered p110α subunit that makes PI3K abnormally active. The altered kinase triggers unregulated chemical signaling in cells, which allows cells to continuously grow and divide. Increased cell proliferation in the brain and other tissues and organs leads to the overgrowth characteristic of MCAP.
Despite involvement of the PIK3CA gene mutations in cancer (described below) and the overgrowth of cells caused by changes in this gene, individuals with MCAP do not appear to have an elevated risk of developing cancer.
- cancers - associated with the PIK3CA gene
Mutations in the PIK3CA gene are involved in many types of cancer, including cancer of the ovary, breast, lung, brain, and stomach. These mutations are also involved in cancer of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, which are collectively referred to as colorectal cancer. The PIK3CA gene mutations involved in cancer are somatic, which means they are acquired during a person's lifetime and are present only in the tumor cells. These mutations change single amino acids in the p110α protein. Two common mutations occur in the same region and change the amino acid glutamate at position 542 or at position 545 of the p110α protein to the amino acid lysine (written as Glu542Lys and Glu545Lys, respectively). Two other common mutations occur in another region, changing the amino acid histidine at position 1047 of p110α to the amino acid arginine or leucine (written as His1047Arg and His1047Leu, respectively).
Cancer-associated PIK3CA gene mutations result in production of an altered p110α subunit that allows PI3K to signal without regulation. The increased signaling leads to abnormal proliferation of cells, resulting in the development of cancer.
- other disorders - caused by mutations in the PIK3CA gene
Mutations in the PIK3CA gene, including those associated with cancer, have been found to cause several other conditions related to overgrowth of tissues. These conditions include hemimegalencephaly; fibroadipose hyperplasia; and a condition called congenital lipomatous overgrowth, vascular malformations, epidermal nevi, and skeletal or spinal abnormalities (CLOVES) syndrome. Hemimegalencephaly is characterized by enlargement of one side of the brain and can cause seizures and intellectual disability. Fibroadipose hyperplasia causes overgrowth of fibrous and fatty (adipose) tissues in various regions of the body, which leads to enlargement of different portions of the body, such as the lower body, an individual arm or leg, or one or more fingers or toes. CLOVES syndrome has multiple features, including an overgrowth of adipose tissue in the abdomen that is often associated with a reddish birthmark on the skin over it, in addition to blood vessel, skin, and bone abnormalities. It is unknown if individuals with these disorders have an elevated risk of developing cancer.
As in MCAP (described above), the genetic changes involved in these disorders occur early in development and are found in only some of the body's cells. This mosaicism helps explain why different conditions can be caused by the same gene mutations.
Where is the PIK3CA gene located?
Cytogenetic Location: 3q26.3
Molecular Location on chromosome 3: base pairs 179,148,113 to 179,235,136
The PIK3CA gene is located on the long (q) arm of chromosome 3 at position 26.3.
More precisely, the PIK3CA gene is located from base pair 179,148,113 to base pair 179,235,136 on chromosome 3.
See How do geneticists indicate the location of a gene? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about PIK3CA?
You and your healthcare professional may find the following resources about PIK3CA helpful.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for the PIK3CA gene or gene products?
- phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, catalytic, 110-KD, alpha
- phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, catalytic, alpha polypeptide
- phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase 110 kDa catalytic subunit alpha
- phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase catalytic subunit alpha isoform
- phosphoinositide-3-kinase, catalytic, alpha polypeptide
- PI3-kinase p110 subunit alpha
- ptdIns-3-kinase subunit p110-alpha
- serine/threonine protein kinase PIK3CA
Where can I find general information about genes?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding PIK3CA?
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for
professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about
a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified
See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.