Mechanistic target of rapamycin
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The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), (formerly mammalian target of rapamycin before it was recognized to be highly conserved among eukaryotes.) also known as FK506-binding protein 12-rapamycin-associated protein 1 (FRAP1), is a kinase that in humans is encoded by the MTOR gene. mTOR is a member of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-related kinase family of protein kinases.
mTOR links with other proteins and serves as a core component of two distinct protein complexes, mTOR complex 1 and mTOR complex 2, which regulate different cellular processes. In particular, as a core component of both complexes, mTOR functions as a serine/threonine protein kinase that regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, cell motility, cell survival, protein synthesis, autophagy, and transcription. As a core component of mTORC2, mTOR also functions as a tyrosine protein kinase that promotes the activation of insulin receptors and insulin-like growth factor 1 receptors. mTORC2 has also been implicated in the control and maintenance of the actin cytoskeleton.
mTOR was first named as the mammalian target of rapamycin. Rapamycin (sirolimus) was discovered in a soil sample from Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui, in the 1970s. The bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus, isolated from that sample, produces an antifungal that researchers named rapamycin after the island.
Rapamycin arrests fungal activity at the G1 phase of the cell cycle. In mammals, it suppresses the immune system by blocking the G1 to S phase transition in T-lymphocytes. Thus, it is used as an immunosuppressant following organ transplantation.
Molecular genetic studies in yeast (published in 1991) first identified FKBP12, TOR1, and TOR2 as the targets of rapamycin; these studies were conducted at the Biozentrum in Basel, Switzerland and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals (now Novartis) by Joseph Heitman, Rao Movva, and Michael N. Hall. They isolated rapamycin-resistant mutants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and discovered that mutations in any of three genes can confer rapamycin resistance. Two of the genes were named TOR1 and TOR2 for targets of rapamycin (TOR) and in honor of the Spalentor, a gate to the city of Basel where TOR was first discovered. The third gene is FPR1, which encodes the yeast ortholog of FKBP12 binding protein in the TOR complexes. Loss of function mutations in FPR1 confer resistance to rapamycin, and also to FK506, providing genetic evidence the FKBP12-drug complexes are the active intracellular agents. Mutations in TOR1 or TOR2 that confer FKBP12-rapamycin resistance are dominant gain of function mutations that alter single amino acid residues within the FRB domain and thereby block FKBP12-rapamycin binding. Several years later, in 1994 the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) was identified and found to be the ortholog of the yeast Tor1/2 proteins and defined as the rapamycin target in mammals by David M. Sabatini and Solomon H. Snyder (Johns Hopkins University) and also by Robert Abraham (who first named it mTOR) and Stuart L. Schreiber (Harvard University). mTOR was named based on the precedent that TOR was first discovered via genetic and molecular studies of rapamycin-resistant mutants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that identified Tor1 and Tor2 as the targets of rapamycin. Several groups also described the protein independently in the year 1994 using names such as FRAP (FKBP12–rapamycin-associated protein), RAFT1 (rapamycin and FKBP12 target 1), RAPT1 (rapamycin target 1) and SEP (sirolimus effector protein) to refer to the protein. Due to the ubiquity of mTOR in animals the meaning of the m has been formally changed from "mammalian" to "mechanistic".
MTOR integrates the input from upstream pathways, including insulin, growth factors (such as IGF-1 and IGF-2), and amino acids. mTOR also senses cellular nutrient, oxygen, and energy levels. The mTOR pathway is a central regulator of mammalian metabolism and physiology, with important roles in the function of tissues including liver, muscle, white and brown adipose tissue, and the brain, and is dysregulated in human diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, depression, and certain cancers. Rapamycin inhibits mTOR by associating with its intracellular receptor FKBP12. The FKBP12-rapamycin complex binds directly to the FKBP12-Rapamycin Binding (FRB) domain of mTOR, inhibiting its activity.
MTOR is the catalytic subunit of two structurally distinct complexes: mTORC1 and mTORC2. Both complexes localize to different subcellular compartments, thus affecting their activation and function.
mTOR Complex 1 (mTORC1) is composed of MTOR, regulatory-associated protein of MTOR (Raptor), mammalian lethal with SEC13 protein 8 (MLST8) and the non-core components PRAS40 and DEPTOR. This complex functions as a nutrient/energy/redox sensor and controls protein synthesis. The activity of mTORC1 is regulated by rapamycin, insulin, growth factors, phosphatidic acid, certain amino acids and their derivatives (e.g., L-leucine and β-hydroxy β-methylbutyric acid), mechanical stimuli, and oxidative stress.
mTOR Complex 2 (mTORC2) is composed of MTOR, rapamycin-insensitive companion of MTOR (RICTOR), MLST8, and mammalian stress-activated protein kinase interacting protein 1 (mSIN1). mTORC2 has been shown to function as an important regulator of the actin cytoskeleton through its stimulation of F-actin stress fibers, paxillin, RhoA, Rac1, Cdc42, and protein kinase C α (PKCα). mTORC2 also phosphorylates the serine/threonine protein kinase Akt/PKB on serine residue Ser473, thus affecting metabolism and survival. Phosphorylation of Akt's serine residue Ser473 by mTORC2 stimulates Akt phosphorylation on threonine residue Thr308 by PDK1 and leads to full Akt activation. In addition, mTORC2 exhibits tyrosine protein kinase activity and phosphorylates the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-IR) and insulin receptor (InsR) on the tyrosine residues Tyr1131/1136 and Tyr1146/1151, respectively, leading to full activation of IGF-IR and InsR.
Inhibition by rapamycin
Rapamycin inhibits mTORC1, and this appears to provide most of the beneficial effects of the drug (including life-span extension in animal studies). Rapamycin has a more complex effect on mTORC2, inhibiting it only in certain cell types under prolonged exposure. Disruption of mTORC2 produces the diabetic-like symptoms of decreased glucose tolerance and insensitivity to insulin.
Gene deletion experiments
The mTORC2 signaling pathway is less defined than the mTORC1 signaling pathway. The functions of the components of the mTORC complexes have been studied using knockdowns and knockouts and were found to produce the following phenotypes:
- NIP7: Knockdown reduced mTORC2 activity that is indicated by decreased phosphorylation of mTORC2 substrates.
- RICTOR: Overexpression leads to metastasis and knockdown inhibits growth factor-induced PKC-phosphorylation. Constitutive deletion of Rictor in mice leads to embryonic lethality, while tissue specific deletion leads to a variety of phenotypes; a common phenotype of Rictor deletion in liver, white adipose tissue, and pancreatic beta cells is systemic glucose intolerance and insulin resistance in one or more tissues. Decreased Rictor expression in mice decreases male, but not female, lifespan.
- mTOR: Inhibition of mTORC1 and mTORC2 by PP242 [2-(4-Amino-1-isopropyl-1H-pyrazolo[3,4-d]pyrimidin-3-yl)-1H-indol-5-ol] leads to autophagy or apoptosis; inhibition of mTORC2 alone by PP242 prevents phosphorylation of Ser-473 site on AKT and arrests the cells in G1 phase of the cell cycle. Genetic reduction of mTOR expression in mice significantly increases lifespan.
- PDK1: Knockout is lethal; hypomorphic allele results in smaller organ volume and organism size but normal AKT activation.
- AKT: Knockout mice experience spontaneous apoptosis (AKT1), severe diabetes (AKT2), small brains (AKT3), and growth deficiency (AKT1/AKT2). Mice heterozygous for AKT1 have increased lifespan.
- TOR1, the S. cerevisiae orthologue of mTORC1, is a regulator of both carbon and nitrogen metabolism; TOR1 KO strains regulate response to nitrogen as well as carbon availability, indicating that it is a key nutritional transducer in yeast.
It is hypothesized that some dietary regimes, like caloric restriction and methionine restriction, cause lifespan extension by decreasing mTOR activity. Some studies have suggested that mTOR signaling may increase during aging, at least in specific tissues like adipose tissue, and rapamycin may act in part by blocking this increase. An alternative theory is mTOR signaling is an example of antagonistic pleiotropy, and while high mTOR signaling is good during early life, it is maintained at an inappropriately high level in old age. CR and methionine restriction may act in part by limiting levels of essential amino acids including leucine and methionine, which are potent activators of mTOR. The administration of leucine into the rat brain has been shown to decrease food intake and body weight via activation of the mTOR pathway.
According to the free radical theory of aging, reactive oxygen species cause damage of mitochondrial proteins and decrease ATP production. Subsequently, via ATP sensitive AMPK, the mTOR pathway is inhibited and ATP consuming protein synthesis is downregulated, since mTORC1 initiates a phosphorylation cascade activating the ribosome. Hence, the proportion of damaged proteins is enhanced. Moreover, disruption of mTORC1 directly inhibits mitochondrial respiration. These positive feedbacks on the aging process are counteracted by protective mechanisms: Decreased mTOR activity (among other factors) upregulates glycolysis and removal of dysfunctional cellular components via autophagy.
Over-activation of mTOR signaling significantly contributes to the initiation and development of tumors and mTOR activity was found to be deregulated in many types of cancer including breast, prostate, lung, melanoma, bladder, brain, and renal carcinomas. Reasons for constitutive activation are several. Among the most common are mutations in tumor suppressor PTEN gene. PTEN phosphatase negatively affects mTOR signalling through interfering with the effect of PI3K, an upstream effector of mTOR. Additionally, mTOR activity is deregulated in many cancers as a result of increased activity of PI3K or Akt. Similarly, overexpression of downstream mTOR effectors 4E-BP1, S6K and eIF4E leads to poor cancer prognosis. Also, mutations in TSC protein that inhibits the activity of mTOR may lead to a condition named tuberous sclerosis complex, which exhibits as benign lesions and increases the risk of renal cell carcinoma.
Increasing mTOR activity was shown to drive cell cycle progression and increase cell proliferation mainly thanks to its effect on protein synthesis. Moreover, active mTOR supports tumor growth also indirectly by inhibiting autophagy. Constitutively activated mTOR functions in supplying carcinoma cells with oxygen and nutrients by increasing the translation of HIF1A and supporting angiogenesis. mTOR also aids in another metabolic adaptation of cancerous cells to support their increased growth rate - activation of glycolytic metabolism. Akt2, a substrate of mTOR, specifically of mTORC2, upregulates expression of the glycolytic enzyme PKM2 thus contributing to the Warburg effect.
Central nervous system disorders
MTOR is implicated in the failure of a 'pruning' mechanism of the excitatory synapses in autism spectrum disorders.
mTOR signaling intersects with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology in several aspects, suggesting its potential role as a contributor to disease progression. In general, findings demonstrate mTOR signaling hyperactivity in AD brains. For example, postmortem studies of human AD brain reveal dysregulation in PTEN, Akt, S6K, and mTOR. mTOR signaling appears to be closely related to the presence of soluble amyloid beta (Aβ) and tau proteins, which aggregate and form two hallmarks of the disease, Aβ plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, respectively. In vitro studies have shown Aβ to be an activator of the PI3K/AKT pathway, which in turn activates mTOR. In addition, applying Aβ to N2K cells increases the expression of p70S6K, a downstream target of mTOR known to have higher expression in neurons that eventually develop neurofibrillary tangles. Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with the 7PA2 familial AD mutation also exhibit increased mTOR activity compared to controls, and the hyperactivity is blocked using a gamma-secretase inhibitor. These in vitro studies suggest that increasing Aβ concentrations increases mTOR signaling; however, significantly large, cytotoxic Aβ concentrations are thought to decrease mTOR signaling.
Consistent with data observed in vitro, mTOR activity and activated p70S6K have been shown to be significantly increased in the cortex and hippocampus of animal models of AD compared to controls. Pharmacologic or genetic removal of the Aβ in animal models of AD eliminates the disruption in normal mTOR activity, pointing to the direct involvement of Aβ in mTOR signaling. In addition, by injecting Aβ oligomers into the hippocampi of normal mice, mTOR hyperactivity is observed. Cognitive impairments characteristic of AD appear to be mediated by the phosphorylation of PRAS-40, which detaches from and allows for the mTOR hyperactivity when it is phosphorylated; inhibiting PRAS-40 phosphorylation prevents Aβ-induced mTOR hyperactivity. Given these findings, the mTOR signaling pathway appears to be one mechanism of Aβ-induced toxicity in AD.
The hyperphosphorylation of tau proteins into neurofibrillary tangles is one hallmark of AD. p70S6K activation has been shown to promote tangle formation as well as mTOR hyperactivity through increased phosphorylation and reduced dephosphorylation. It has also been proposed that mTOR contributes to tau pathology by increasing the translation of tau and other proteins.
Synaptic plasticity is a key contributor to learning and memory, two processes that are severely impaired in AD patients. Translational control, or the maintenance of protein homeostasis, has been shown to be essential for neural plasticity and is regulated by mTOR. Both protein over- and under-production via mTOR activity seem to contribute to impaired learning and memory. Furthermore, given that deficits resulting from mTOR overactivity can be alleviated through treatment with rapamycin, it is possible that mTOR plays an important role in affecting cognitive functioning through synaptic plasticity. Further evidence for mTOR activity in neurodegeneration comes from recent findings demonstrating that eIF2α-P, an upstream target of the mTOR pathway, mediates cell death in prion diseases through sustained translational inhibition.
Some evidence points to mTOR’s role in reduced Aβ clearance as well. mTOR is a negative regulator of autophagy; therefore, hyperactivity in mTOR signaling should reduce Aβ clearance in the AD brain. Disruptions in autophagy may be a potential source of pathogenesis in protein misfolding diseases, including AD. Studies using mouse models of Huntington’s disease demonstrate that treatment with rapamycin facilitates the clearance of huntingtin aggregates. Perhaps the same treatment may be useful in clearing Aβ deposits as well.
Protein synthesis and cell growth
mTORC1 activation is required for myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis and skeletal muscle hypertrophy in humans in response to both physical exercise and ingestion of certain amino acids or amino acid derivatives. Persistent inactivation of mTORC1 signaling in skeletal muscle facilitates the loss of muscle mass and strength during muscle wasting in old age, cancer cachexia, and muscle atrophy from physical inactivity. mTORC2 activation appears to mediate neurite outgrowth in differentiated mouse neuro2a cells. Intermittent mTOR activation in prefrontal neurons by β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate inhibits age-related cognitive decline associated with dendritic pruning in animals, which is a phenomenon also observed in humans.
Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease characterised by hardening (sclero) of the skin (derma) that affects internal organs in its more severe forms. mTOR plays a role in fibrotic diseases and autoimmunity, and blockade of the mTORC pathway is under investigation as a treatment for scleroderma.
mTOR inhibitors as therapies
mTOR inhibitors, e.g. rapamycin, are already used to prevent transplant rejection. Rapamycin is also related to the therapy of glycogen storage disease (GSD). Some articles reported that rapamycin can inhibit mTORC1 so that the phosphorylation of GS(glycogen synthase) can be increased in skeletal muscle. This discovery represents a potential novel therapeutic approach for glycogen storage diseases that involve glycogen accumulation in muscle. Various natural compounds, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), caffeine, curcumin, and resveratrol, have also been reported to inhibit mTOR when applied to isolated cells in culture; however, there is as yet no evidence that these substances inhibit mTOR when taken as dietary supplements.
Some mTOR inhibitors (e.g. temsirolimus, everolimus) are beginning to be used in the treatment of cancer. mTOR inhibitors may also be useful for treating several age-associated diseases including neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Ridaforolimus is another mTOR inhibitor, currently in clinical development.
Mammalian target of rapamycin has been shown to interact with:
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The mTOR signaling pathway acts as a molecular systems integrator to support organismal and cellular interactions with the environment. The mTOR pathway regulates homeostasis by directly influencing protein synthesis, transcription, autophagy, metabolism, and organelle biogenesis and maintenance. It is not surprising then that mTOR signaling is implicated in the entire hierarchy of brain function including the proliferation of neural stem cells, the assembly and maintenance of circuits, experience-dependent plasticity and regulation of complex behaviors like feeding, sleep and circadian rhythms. ...
mTOR function is mediated through two large biochemical complexes defined by their respective protein composition and have been extensively reviewed elsewhere(Dibble and Manning, 2013; Laplante and Sabatini, 2012)(Figure 1B). In brief, common to both mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) and mTOR complex 2 (mTORC2) are: mTOR itself, mammalian lethal with sec13 protein 8 (mLST8; also known as GβL), and the inhibitory DEP domain containing mTOR-interacting protein (DEPTOR). Specific to mTORC1 is the regulator-associated protein of the mammalian target of rapamycin (Raptor) and proline-rich Akt substrate of 40 kDa (PRAS40)(Kim et al., 2002; Laplante and Sabatini, 2012). Raptor is essential to mTORC1 activity. The mTORC2 complex includes the rapamycin insensitive companion of mTOR (Rictor), mammalian stress activated MAP kinase-interacting protein 1 (mSIN1), and proteins observed with rictor 1 and 2 (PROTOR 1 and 2)(Jacinto et al., 2006; Jacinto et al., 2004; Pearce et al., 2007; Sarbassov et al., 2004)(Figure 1B). Rictor and mSIN1 are both critical to mTORC2 function.
Figure 1: Domain structure of the mTOR kinase and components of mTORC1 and mTORC2
Figure 2: The mTOR Signaling Pathway
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