The PI3-kinase/Akt pathway promotes cell survival in many different cell types including intestinal epithelial cells. Increased AKT activation in polyamine depleted intestinal epithelial cells correlated well with the decrease in TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Increased Akt activation and GSK3beta (Ser 9) phosphorylation without significant effect on Bad (Ser136) phosphorylation indicate that Akt-mediated protection is independent of Bad phosphorylation but may depend on GSK3beta. Pretreatment of polyamine-depleted cells with LY294002 increased caspase-9 and caspase-3 activation and decreased basal levels of GSK-3beta phosphorylation. Inhibition of GSK3beta activity using AR-A014418 or lithium chloride or siRNA-mediated downregulation of its expression had no effect on apoptosis. Inhibition of PI3-kinase and over-expression of dominant negative Akt (DN-AKT), significantly increased apoptosis in polyamine depleted cells. DN-Akt expression reversed the protective effect of polyamine depletion on apoptosis. DN-Akt, as well as the PI3-kinase inhibitors, prevented Akt activation and subsequent translocation of NF-kappaB to the nucleus. Constitutively active Akt (CA-AKT) expression increased resistance to TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Constitutively active-Akt expression increased nuclear staining of NF-kappaB. Moreover, polyamine depletion of DN-Akt cells prevented basal and TNF-alpha-induced IkappaBalpha phosphorylation. Prevention of NF-kappaB activation in DN-IkappaBalpha-transfected cells increased apoptosis in control cells and restored it in polyamine-depleted cells to control levels. These data indicate that Akt regulates the mitochondrial pathway, preventing activation of caspase-9 and thereby caspase-3 via NF-kappaB and these effects are independent of GSK-3beta activity.