Insufficiency of phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) occurs in numerous tumor types and has been implicated as a resistance mechanism to receptor tyrosine kinase-targeted therapies in human cancer. In this study, we have performed a comprehensive molecular and immunohistochemical characterization of PTEN in 58 imatinib-naïve and 54 imatinib-treated gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). The findings were correlated with clinicopathological data. At the genomic level, PTEN was affected mainly by mono-allelic loss, which was significantly less frequent in imatinib-naïve vs imatinib-resistant tumors (9% vs 39%, P<0.001). Neither PTEN mutations nor PTEN promoter hyper-methylation were found. By immunohistochemistry, PTEN depletion was clearly related to GIST progression. Low PTEN protein expression was common (50%) and often paralleled with total immunonegativity in imatinib-resistant tumors. The abnormal PTEN protein expression correlated with PTEN loss at the genomic level (P=0.001). In addition, the effect of small interfering RNA (siRNA) PTEN knockdown on KIT signaling was examined in GIST-T1 and GIST430 cell lines, in the absence or presence of a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235, alone or in combination with imatinib. In both cell lines, siRNA silencing of PTEN resulted in the substantial upregulation of PI3K-AKT and MAPK pathways. The MAPK hyperactivation was further potentiated by NVP-BEZ235 in the imatinib-sensitive GIST-T1 cells; yet, this effect was counteracted efficiently by combined treatment. In the imatinib-resistant GIST430 cells, neither NVP-BEZ235 alone or in combination with imatinib yielded sufficient inhibition of hyper-phosphorylated MAPK and downstream intermediate S6 protein. In conclusion, depleted PTEN expression associated with mono-allelic PTEN loss occurs frequently in imatinib-resistant GIST and might serve as a biomarker for stratifying patients for optimal treatment. In vitro, the PTEN insufficiency leads to hyperactivation of AKT and MAPK pathways in tumor cells. Novel therapies targeting multiple components of the integrated KIT receptor signaling pathways in imatinib-resistant GIST warrant further studies.Modern Pathology advance online publication, 18 April 2014; doi:10.1038/modpathol.2014.53.