The phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) signalling pathway plays a key role in the regulation of cell survival and proliferation. We show that the PI3-kinase/Akt pathway is constitutively active in primary acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cells and that blockade by the selective inhibitor LY294002 reduces survival of the total blast population (mean 52%). The ERK/MAPK module is also constitutively active and treatment with the MAPKK inhibitor U0126 reduces cell survival by 22%. In 10 of 18 samples, PI3-kinase contributes to MAPK activation as incubation with LY294002 leads to a marked reduction in its phosphorylation. PI3-kinase inhibition reduces survival of the CD34+38- AML progenitor subset by 44%, whereas MAPKK inhibition has little effect. Reporter assays in primary AML cells show that blocking PI3-kinase leads to a marked reduction of constitutive NF-kB activity and promotes p53-mediated transcription. This is associated with a synergistic interaction between LY294002 and Ara-C. An inducible activated form of Akt protects normal myeloid cells from Ara-C and etoposide-mediated apoptosis. These results show that blocking PI3-kinase has direct antileukaemic effects and potentiates the response to conventional cytotoxics via a number of targets including NF-kB, p53 and MAPK. Inhibitors of PI3-kinase and Akt may be useful in the treatment of AML.