Autophagy is a highly orchestrated intracellular bulk degradation process that is activated by various environmental stresses. The serine/threonine kinase ULK1, like its yeast homologue Atg1, is a key initiator of autophagy that is negatively regulated by the mTOR kinase. However, the molecular mechanism that controls the inhibitory effect of mTOR on ULK1-mediated autophagy is not fully understood. Here we identified AMPK, a central energy sensor, as a new ULK1-binding partner. We found that AMPK binds to the PS domain of ULK1 and this interaction is required for ULK1-mediated autophagy. Interestingly, activation of AMPK by AICAR induces 14-3-3 binding to the AMPK-ULK1-mTORC1 complex, which coincides with raptor Ser792 phosphorylation and mTOR inactivation. Consistently, AICAR induces autophagy in TSC2-deficient cells expressing wild-type raptor but not the mutant raptor that lacks the AMPK phosphorylation sites (Ser722 and Ser792). Taken together, these results suggest that AMPK association with ULK1 plays an important role in autophagy induction, at least in part, by phosphorylation of raptor to lift the inhibitory effect of mTOR on the ULK1 autophagic complex.
Autophagy, the starvation-induced degradation of bulky cytosolic components, is up-regulated in mammalian cells when nutrient supplies are limited. Although mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is known as the key regulator of autophagy induction, the mechanism by which mTOR regulates autophagy has remained elusive. Here, we identify that mTOR phosphorylates a mammalian homologue of Atg13 and the mammalian Atg1 homologues ULK1 and ULK2. The mammalian Atg13 binds both ULK1 and ULK2 and mediates the interaction of the ULK proteins with FIP200. The binding of Atg13 stabilizes and activates ULK and facilitates the phosphorylation of FIP200 by ULK, whereas knockdown of Atg13 inhibits autophagosome formation. Inhibition of mTOR by rapamycin or leucine deprivation, the conditions that induce autophagy, leads to dephosphorylation of ULK1, ULK2, and Atg13 and activates ULK to phosphorylate FIP200. These findings demonstrate that the ULK-Atg13-FIP200 complexes are direct targets of mTOR and important regulators of autophagy in response to mTOR signaling.
ULK1 (Unc51-like kinase, hATG1) is a Ser/Thr kinase that plays a key role in inducing autophagy in response to starvation. ULK1 is phosphorylated and negatively regulated by the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). Previous studies have shown that ULK1 is not only a downstream effector of mTORC1 but also a negative regulator of mTORC1 signaling.1–3 Here, we investigated how ULK1 regulates mTORC1 signaling, and found that ULK1 inhibits the kinase activity of mTORC1 and cell proliferation. Deficiency or knockdown of ULK1 or its homolog ULK2 enhanced mTORC1 signaling, cell proliferation rates and accumulation of cell mass, whereas overexpression of ULK1 had the opposite effect. Knockdown of Atg13, the binding partner of ULK1 and ULK2, mimicked the effects of ULK1 or ULK2 deficiency or knockdown. Both insulin and leucine stimulated mTORC1 signaling to a greater extent when ULK1 or ULK2 was deficient or knocked down. In contrast, Atg5 deficiency did not have a significant effect on mTORC1 signaling and cell proliferation. The stimulatory effect of ULK1 knockdown on mTORC1 signaling occurred even in the absence of tuberous sclerosis complex 2 (TSC2), the negative regulator of mTORC1 signaling. In addition, ULK1 was found to bind raptor, induce its phosphorylation, and inhibit the kinase activity of mTORC1. These results demonstrate that ULK1 negatively regulates the kinase activity of mTORC1 and cell proliferation in a manner independent of Atg5 and TSC2. The inhibition of mTORC1 by ULK1 may be important to coordinately regulate cell growth and autophagy with optimized utilization of cellular energy.
ULK1; ULK2; Atg5; raptor; mTOR
Autophagy is an intracellular degradation system, by which cytoplasmic contents are degraded in lysosomes. Autophagy is dynamically induced by nutrient depletion to provide necessary amino acids within cells, thus helping them adapt to starvation. Although it has been suggested that mTOR is a major negative regulator of autophagy, how it controls autophagy has not yet been determined. Here, we report a novel mammalian autophagy factor, Atg13, which forms a stable ∼3-MDa protein complex with ULK1 and FIP200. Atg13 localizes on the autophagic isolation membrane and is essential for autophagosome formation. In contrast to yeast counterparts, formation of the ULK1–Atg13–FIP200 complex is not altered by nutrient conditions. Importantly, mTORC1 is incorporated into the ULK1–Atg13–FIP200 complex through ULK1 in a nutrient-dependent manner and mTOR phosphorylates ULK1 and Atg13. ULK1 is dephosphorylated by rapamycin treatment or starvation. These data suggest that mTORC1 suppresses autophagy through direct regulation of the ∼3-MDa ULK1–Atg13–FIP200 complex.
Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a conserved sensor of intracellular energy activated in response to low nutrient availability and environmental stress. In a screen for conserved substrates of AMPK, we identified ULK1 and ULK2, mammalian orthologs of the yeast protein kinase Atg1, which is required for autophagy. Genetic analysis of AMPK or ULK1 in mammalian liver and C. elegans revealed a requirement for these kinases in autophagy. In mammals, loss of AMPK or ULK1 resulted in aberrant accumulation of the autophagy adaptor p62 and defective mitophagy. Reconstitution of ULK1-deficient cells with a mutant ULK1 that cannot be phosphorylated by AMPK revealed that such phosphorylation is required for mitochondrial homeostasis and cell survival following starvation. These findings uncover a conserved biochemical mechanism coupling nutrient status with autophagy and cell survival.
Protein synthesis and autophagy work as two opposing processes to control cell growth in response to nutrient supply. The mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) pathway, which acts as a master regulator to control protein synthesis, has recently been shown to inhibit autophagy by phosphorylating and inactivating ULK1, an autophagy regulatory protein. ULK1 also inhibits phosphorylation of a mTORC1 substrate, S6K1, indicating that a complex signaling interplay exists between mTORC1 and ULK1. Here, we demonstrate that ULK1 induces multisite phosphorylation of Raptor in vivo and in vitro. Using phospho-specific antibodies we identify Ser855 and Ser859 as being strongly phosphorylated by ULK1, with moderate phosphorylation of Ser792 also observed. Interestingly, ULK1 overexpression also increases phosphorylation of Raptor Ser863 and the mTOR autophosphorylation site, Ser2481 in a mTORC1-dependent manner. Despite this evidence for heightened mTORC1 kinase activity following ULK1 overexpresssion, mTORC1-mediated phosphorylation of S6K1 and 4E-BP1 is significantly inhibited. ULK1 expression has no effect on protein-protein interactions between the components of mTORC1, but does reduce the ability of Raptor to bind to the substrate 4E-BP1. Furthermore, shRNA knockdown of ULK1 leads to increased phosphorylation of mTORC1 substrates and decreased phosphorylation of Raptor at Ser859 and Ser792. We propose a new mechanism whereby ULK1 contributes to mTORC1 inhibition through hindrance of substrate docking to Raptor. This is a novel negative feedback loop that occurs upon activation of autophagy to maintain mTORC1 inhibition when nutrient supplies are limiting.
autophagy; mTORC1; raptor; mTOR; S6K1; ULK1; ULK2
Under normal growth conditions the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) negatively regulates the central autophagy regulator complex consisting of Unc-51-like kinases 1/2 (Ulk1/2), focal adhesion kinase family-interacting protein of 200 kDa (FIP200) and Atg13. Upon starvation, mTORC1-mediated repression of this complex is released, which then leads to Ulk1/2 activation. In this scenario, Atg13 has been proposed as an adaptor mediating the interaction between Ulk1/2 and FIP200 and enhancing Ulk1/2 kinase activity. Using Atg13-deficient cells, we demonstrate that Atg13 is indispensable for autophagy induction. We further show that Atg13 function strictly depends on FIP200 binding. In contrast, the simultaneous knockout of Ulk1 and Ulk2 did not have a similar effect on autophagy induction. Accordingly, the Ulk1-dependent phosphorylation sites we identified in Atg13 are expendable for this process. This suggests that Atg13 has an additional function independent of Ulk1/2 and that Atg13 and FIP200 act in concert during autophagy induction.
Atg13; autophagy; FIP200; Ulk1; Ulk2
Autophagy is activated in response to a variety of cellular stresses including metabolic stress. While elegant genetic studies in yeast have identified the core autophagy machinery, the signaling pathways that regulate this process are less understood. AMPK is an energy sensing kinase and several studies have suggested that AMPK is required for autophagy. The biochemical connections between AMPK and autophagy, however, have not been elucidated. In this report, we identify a biochemical connection between a critical regulator of autophagy, ULK1, and the energy sensing kinase, AMPK. ULK1 forms a complex with AMPK, and AMPK activation results in ULK1 phosphorylation. Moreover, we demonstrate that the immediate effect of AMPK-dependent phosphorylation of ULK1 results in enhanced binding of the adaptor protein YWHAZ/14-3-3ζ; and this binding alters ULK1 phosphorylation in vitro. Finally, we provide evidence that both AMPK and ULK1 regulate localization of a critical component of the phagophore, ATG9, and that some of the AMPK phosphorylation sites on ULK1 are important for regulating ATG9 localization. Taken together these data identify an ULK1-AMPK signaling cassette involved in regulation of the autophagy machinery.
14-3-3 proteins; AMP-activated protein kinase; Atg9; autophagy; energy metabolism; metabolic stress; phosphorylation; Unc-51-like kinase 1
Autophagy, the primary recycling pathway of cells, plays a critical role in mitochondrial quality control under normal growth conditions and in the response to cellular stress. The Hsp90-Cdc37 chaperone complex coordinately regulates the activity of select kinases to orchestrate many facets of the stress response. Although both maintain mitochondrial integrity, the relationship between Hsp90-Cdc37 and autophagy has not been well characterized. Ulk1, one of the mammalian homologues of yeast Atg1, is a serine-threonine kinase required for mitophagy. Here we show that the interaction between Ulk1 and Hsp90-Cdc37 stabilizes and activates Ulk1, which in turn is required for the phosphorylation and release of Atg13 from Ulk1, and for the recruitment of Atg13 to damaged mitochondria. Hsp90-Cdc37, Ulk1 and Atg13 phosphorylation are all required for efficient mitochondrial clearance. These findings establish a direct pathway that integrates Ulk1- and Atg13- directed mitophagy with the stress response coordinated by Hsp90 and Cdc37.
In yeast, activation of ATG1/ATG13 kinase complex initiates autophagy. This mechanism of autophagy initiation is conserved, as unc-51-like kinase 1 (ULK1) and unc-51-like kinase 2 (ULK2) are two mammalian functional homologues of ATG1 and form similar complex with mammalian ATG13. Here, we report that both ULK1 and ULK2 are transcriptional targets of tumor suppressor p53. In response to DNA damage, ULK1 and ULK2 are upregulated by p53. The upregulation of ULK1 (ULK2)/ATG13 complex by p53 is necessary for the sustained autophagy activity induced by DNA damage. In this context, elevated autophagy contributes to subsequent cell death. These findings suggest that ULK1 and ULK2 may mediate part of tumor suppression activity in mammalian cells and contribute to the efficacy of genotoxic chemotherapeutic drugs.
autophagy; p53; DNA damage; Ulk1
Binge drinking often triggers compromised myocardial contractile function while activating AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Given the role of AMPK in the initiation of autophagy through the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) and Unc51-like kinase (ULK1), this study was designed to examine the impact of AMPK deficiency on cardiac function and the mechanism involved with a focus on autophagy following an acute ethanol challenge.
Methods and results
Wild-type (WT) and transgenic mice overexpressing a kinase-dead (KD) α2 isoform (K45R mutation) of AMPK were challenged with ethanol. Glucose tolerance, echocardiography, Langendorff heart and cardiomyocyte contractile function, autophagy, and autophagic signalling including AMPK, acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC), mTOR, the mTORC1-associated protein Raptor, and ULK1 were examined. Ethanol exposure triggered glucose intolerance and compromised cardiac contraction accompanied by increased phosphorylation of AMPK and ACC as well as autophagosome accumulation (increased LC3II and p62), the effects of which were attenuated or mitigated by AMPK deficiency or inhibition. Ethanol dampened and stimulated, respectively, the phosphorylation of mTOR and Raptor, the effects of which were abolished by AMPK deficiency. ULK1 phosphorylation at Ser757 and Ser777 was down-regulated and up-regulated, respectively, by ethanol, the effect of which was nullified by AMPK deficiency or inhibition. Moreover, the ethanol challenge enhanced LC3 puncta in H9c2 cells and promoted cardiac contractile dysfunction, and these effects were ablated by the inhibition of autophagy or AMPK. Lysosomal inhibition failed to accentuate ethanol-induced increases in LC3II and p62.
In summary, these data suggest that ethanol exposure may trigger myocardial dysfunction through a mechanism associated with AMPK-mTORC1-ULK1-mediated autophagy.
Ethanol; AMPK deficiency; Autophagy; Cardiac function; ULK1
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved physiological process of self-digestion by a cell to adapt to various stresses, including starvation. Its molecular basis involves the concerted activation of proteins encoded by the family of autophagy-related (Atg) genes. The best characterized is the serine/threonine protein kinase Atg1 in yeast which appears to be essential at the early stage of autophagy. In mammals, five Atg1 homologues have been identified as uncoordinated (UNC) 51-like kinase 1 to 4 and STK36. ULK1 and ULK2 are the most closely related members of the family, sharing 78% homology within their protein kinase domains. However, the specific function of ULK1 and ULK2 in mammalian autophagy is not fully understood. Here, we demonstrate that ULK1 and ULK2 are functionally redundant protein kinases required to mediate autophagy under nutrient-deprived conditions in fibroblasts. In contrast, ULK1, but not ULK2, is critical to induce the autophagic response of cerebellar granule neurons (CGN) to low potassium concentration in serum-free conditions. Furthermore, we found that ULK1 has a cytoprotective function in neurons. Together, these results provide strong genetic evidence that ULK1 is an essential component of the autophagic signaling pathway. The ability of ULK2 to compensate for the loss of ULK1 function is cell-type specific.
Atg1; ULK1; ULK2; mTOR; autophagy; apoptosis; neurons; MEFs
The yeast Atg1 serine/threonine protein kinase and its mammalian homologs ULK1 and ULK2 play critical roles during the activation of autophagy. Previous studies have demonstrated that the conserved C-terminal domain (CTD) of ULK1 controls the regulatory function and localization of the protein. Here, we explored the role of kinase activity and intramolecular interactions to further understand ULK function. We demonstrate that the dominant-negative activity of kinase-dead mutants requires a 7-residue motif within the CTD. Our data lead to a model in which the functions of ULK1 and ULK2 are controlled by autophosphorylation and conformational changes involving exposure of the CTD. Additional mapping indicates that the CTD contains other distinct regions that direct membrane association and interaction with the putative human homologue of Atg13, which we have here characterized. Atg13 is required for autophagy and Atg9 trafficking during autophagy. However, Atg13 does not bind the 7-residue dominant-negative motif in the CTD of ULK proteins nor is the inhibitory activity of the CTDs rescued by Atg13 ectopic expression, suggesting that in mammalian cells, the CTD may interact with additional autophagy proteins.
Autophagy is a membrane-mediated intracellular degradation system. The serine/threonine kinase Atg1 plays an essential role in autophagosome formation. However, the role of the mammalian Atg1 homologues UNC-51–like kinase (ULK) 1 and 2 are not yet well understood. We found that murine ULK1 and 2 localized to autophagic isolation membrane under starvation conditions. Kinase-dead alleles of ULK1 and 2 exerted a dominant-negative effect on autophagosome formation, suggesting that ULK kinase activity is important for autophagy. We next screened for ULK binding proteins and identified the focal adhesion kinase family interacting protein of 200 kD (FIP200), which regulates diverse cellular functions such as cell size, proliferation, and migration. We found that FIP200 was redistributed from the cytoplasm to the isolation membrane under starvation conditions. In FIP200-deficient cells, autophagy induction by various treatments was abolished, and both stability and phosphorylation of ULK1 were impaired. These results suggest that FIP200 is a novel mammalian autophagy factor that functions together with ULKs.
Autophagy plays an important role in the cellular response to a variety of metabolic stress conditions thus contributing to the maintenance of intracellular homeostasis. Studies in yeast have defined the genetic components involved in the initiation of autophagy as well as the progression through the autophagic cascade. The yeast kinase Atg1 initiates autophagy in response to nutrient limitation in a TOR-dependent manner. The ulk family of genes encodes the mammalian ortholog of yeast Atg1. Our recent work using mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cell lines deficient for both ulk1 and ulk2 has revealed that autophagy induction is more complex in mammals than in yeast. Furthermore, these data confirm the surprising finding that a by-product of amino acid metabolism, ammonia, is a strong inducer of autophagy, as first shown by the Abraham laboratory.
ammonia; Ulk1/2; autophagy; metabolism
The mammalian target of rapamycin (MTOR) protein kinase complex is a key component of a pathway that regulates cell growth and proliferation in response to energy levels, hypoxia, nutrients and insulin. Inhibition of MTORC1 strongly induces autophagy by regulating the activity of the ULK protein kinase complex that is required for the formation of autophagosomes. However, the participation of MTORC1 in the expression of autophagy genes has not been characterized. Here we show that MTORC1 regulates nuclear localization and activity of the transcription factor EB (TFEB), a member of the bHLH leucine-zipper family of transcription factors that drives expression of autophagy and lysosomal genes. Under normal nutrient conditions, TFEB is phosphorylated in Ser211 in an MTORC1-dependent manner. This phosphorylation promotes association of TFEB with members of the YWHA (14-3-3) family of proteins and retention of the transcription factor in the cytosol. Pharmacological or genetic inhibition of MTORC1 causes dissociation of the TFEB/YWHA complex and rapid transport of TFEB to the nucleus where it increases transcription of multiple genes implicated in autophagy and lysosomal function. Active TFEB also associates with late endosomal/lysosomal membranes through interaction with the LAMTOR/RRAG/MTORC1 complex. Our results unveil a novel role for MTORC1 in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis by regulating autophagy at the transcriptional level.
autophagy; lysosomes; MTOR; MTORC1; TFEB; transcription; 14-3-3/YWHA
A fundamental function of autophagy conserved from yeast to mammals is mobilization of macromolecules during times of limited nutrient availability, permitting organisms to survive under starvation conditions. In yeast, autophagy is initiated following nitrogen or carbon deprivation, and autophagy mutants die rapidly under these conditions. Similarly, in mammals, autophagy is upregulated in most organs following initiation of starvation, and is critical for survival in the perinatal period following abrupt termination of the placental nutrient supply. The nutrient-sensing kinase, mammalian target of rapamycin, coordinates cellular proliferation and growth with nutrient availability, at least in part by regulating protein synthesis and autophagy-mediated degradation. This review focusses on the regulation of autophagy by Tor, a mammalian target of rapamycin, and Ulk1, a mammalian homolog of Atg1, in response to changes in nutrient availability. Given the importance of mitochondria in maintaining bioenergetic homestasis, and potentially as a source of membrane for autophagosomes during starvation, possible roles for mitochondria in this process are also discussed. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 14, 1953–1958.
Autophagy is a bulk proteolytic process that is indispensable for cell survival during starvation. Autophagy is induced by nutrient deprivation via inactivation of the rapamycin-sensitive Tor complex1 (TORC1), a protein kinase complex regulating cell growth in response to nutrient conditions. However, the mechanism by which TORC1 controls autophagy and the direct target of TORC1 activity remain unclear. Atg13 is an essential regulatory component of autophagy upstream of the Atg1 kinase complex, and here we show that yeast TORC1 directly phosphorylates Atg13 at multiple Ser residues. Additionally, expression of an unphosphorylatable Atg13 mutant bypasses the TORC1 pathway to induce autophagy through activation of Atg1 in cells growing under nutrient-rich conditions. Our findings suggest that the direct control of the Atg1 complex by TORC1 induces autophagy.
The AMP-activated serine/threonine protein kinase (AMPK) is a sensor of cellular energy status found in all eukaryotes that is activated under conditions of low intracellular ATP following stresses such as nutrient deprivation or hypoxia. In the past five years, work from a large number of laboratories has revealed that one of the major downstream signaling pathways regulated by AMPK is the mammalian target-of-rapamycin (mTOR pathway). Interestingly, like AMPK, the mTOR serine/threonine kinase plays key roles not only in growth control and cell proliferation but also in metabolism. Recent work has revealed that across eukaryotes mTOR orthologs are found in two biochemically distinct complexes and only one of those complexes (mTORC1 in mammals) is acutely sensitive to rapamycin and regulated by nutrients and AMPK. Many details of the molecular mechanism by which AMPK inhibits mTORC1 signaling have also been decoded in the past 5 years. AMPK directly phosphorylates at least two proteins to induce rapid suppression of mTORC1 activity, the TSC2 tumor suppressor and the critical mTORC1 binding subunit raptor. Here we explore the molecular connections between AMPK and mTOR signaling pathways and examine the physiological processes in which AMPK regulation of mTOR is critical for growth or metabolic control. The functional conservation of AMPK and TOR in all eukaryotes, and the sequence conservation around the AMPK phosphorylation sites in raptor across all eukaryotes examined suggest that this represents a fundamental cell growth module connecting nutrient status to the cell growth machinery. These findings have broad implications for the control of cell growth by nutrients in a number of cellular and organismal contexts.
LKB1; AMPK; mTOR; raptor; TSC2; metabolism; checkpoint
Different from unicellular organisms, metazoan cells require the presence of extracellular growth factors to utilize environmental nutrients. However, the underlying mechanism was unclear. We have delineated a pathway, in which glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) in cells deprived of growth factors phosphorylates and activates the acetyltransferase KAT5/TIP60, which in turn stimulates the protein kinase ULK1 to elicit autophagy. Cells with the Kat5/Tip60 gene replaced with Kat5S86A that cannot be phosphorylated by GSK3 are resistant to serum starvation-induced autophagy. Acetylation sites on ULK1 were mapped to K162 and K606, and the acetylation-defective mutant ULK1K162,606R displays reduced kinase activity and fails to rescue autophagy in Ulk1−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts, indicating that acetylation is vital to the activation of ULK1. The GSK3-KAT5-ULK1 cascade seems to be specific for cells to sense growth factors, as KAT5 phosphorylation is not enhanced under glucose deprivation. Distinct from the glucose starvation-autophagy pathway that is conserved in all eukaryotic organisms, the growth factor deprivation response pathway is perhaps unique to metazoan organisms.
GSK3; Tip60; Ulk1; acetylation; autophagy; growth factor; phosphorylation
Autophagy proteins are normally involved in the formation of double-membrane autophagosomes that mediate bulk cytoplasmic and organelle degradation. Here we report the modification of single-membrane vacuoles in cells by autophagy proteins. Light Chain 3 (LC3), a component of autophagosomes, is recruited to single-membrane entotic vacuoles, macropinosomes, and phagosomes harboring apoptotic cells, in a manner dependent on lipidation machinery including Atg5 and Atg7, and the class III PI-3-kinase Vps34. These downstream components of autophagy machinery, but not the upstream mTor-regulated Ulk- Atg13-Fip200 complex, facilitate lysosome fusion to single membranes and the degradation of internalized cargo. For entosis, a live cell engulfment program, the autophagy protein-dependent fusion of lysosomes to vacuolar membranes leads to the death of internalized cells, which are killed by their hosts. As pathogen-containing phagosomes can be targeted in a similar manner, the death of epithelial cells by this mechanism mimics pathogen destruction. These data define the targeting of single-membrane vacuoles as a property of autophagy pathway proteins in cells in the absence of pathogenic organisms.
The conserved serine/threonine kinase mTOR (the mammalian target of rapamycin), a downstream effector of the PI3K/AKT pathway, forms two distinct multiprotein complexes: mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is sensitive to rapamycin, activates S6K1 and 4EBP1, which are involved in mRNA translation. It is activated by diverse stimuli, such as growth factors, nutrients, energy and stress signals, and essential signalling pathways, such as PI3K, MAPK and AMPK, in order to control cell growth, proliferation and survival. mTORC2 is considered resistant to rapamycin and is generally insensitive to nutrients and energy signals. It activates PKC-α and AKT and regulates the actin cytoskeleton. Deregulation of multiple elements of the mTOR pathway (PI3K amplification/mutation, PTEN loss of function, AKT overexpression, and S6K1, 4EBP1 and eIF4E overexpression) has been reported in many types of cancers, particularly in melanoma, where alterations in major components of the mTOR pathway were reported to have significant effects on tumour progression. Therefore, mTOR is an appealing therapeutic target and mTOR inhibitors, including the rapamycin analogues deforolimus, everolimus and temsirolimus, are submitted to clinical trials for treating multiple cancers, alone or in combination with inhibitors of other pathways. Importantly, temsirolimus and everolimus were recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma, PNET and giant cell astrocytoma. Small molecules that inhibit mTOR kinase activity and dual PI3K-mTOR inhibitors are also being developed. In this review, we aim to survey relevant research, the molecular mechanisms of signalling, including upstream activation and downstream effectors, and the role of mTOR in cancer, mainly in melanoma.
mTOR; cancer; melanoma; therapy; rapamycin
The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) regulates cell growth and survival by integrating nutrient and hormonal signals. These signaling functions are distributed between at least two distinct mTOR protein complexes: mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is sensitive to the selective inhibitor rapamycin and activated by growth factor stimulation via the canonical phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)→Akt→mTOR pathway. Activated mTORC1 kinase up-regulates protein synthesis by phosphorylating key regulators of mRNA translation. By contrast, mTORC2 is resistant to rapamycin. Genetic studies have suggested that mTORC2 may phosphorylate Akt at S473, one of two phosphorylation sites required for Akt activation; this has been controversial, in part because RNA interference and gene knockouts produce distinct Akt phospho-isoforms. The central role of mTOR in controlling key cellular growth and survival pathways has sparked interest in discovering mTOR inhibitors that bind to the ATP site and therefore target both mTORC2 and mTORC1. We investigated mTOR signaling in cells and animals with two novel and specific mTOR kinase domain inhibitors (TORKinibs). Unlike rapamycin, these TORKinibs (PP242 and PP30) inhibit mTORC2, and we use them to show that pharmacological inhibition of mTOR blocks the phosphorylation of Akt at S473 and prevents its full activation. Furthermore, we show that TORKinibs inhibit proliferation of primary cells more completely than rapamycin. Surprisingly, we find that mTORC2 is not the basis for this enhanced activity, and we show that the TORKinib PP242 is a more effective mTORC1 inhibitor than rapamycin. Importantly, at the molecular level, PP242 inhibits cap-dependent translation under conditions in which rapamycin has no effect. Our findings identify new functional features of mTORC1 that are resistant to rapamycin but are effectively targeted by TORKinibs. These potent new pharmacological agents complement rapamycin in the study of mTOR and its role in normal physiology and human disease.
Growth factor pathways are required for normal development but are often inappropriately activated in many cancers. One growth-factor–sensitive pathway of increasing interest to cancer researchers relies on the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a kinase that (like all kinases) delivers phosphate groups from ATP to amino acid residues of downstream proteins. TOR proteins were first discovered in yeast as the cellular targets of rapamycin, a small, naturally occurring molecule derived from bacteria that is widely used as an immunosuppressant and more recently in some cancer therapies. The study of TOR proteins has relied heavily on the use of rapamycin, but rapamycin does not directly inhibit TOR kinase activity; rather, rapamycin influences TOR's enzymatic activities by binding to a domain far from the kinase's active site. Some mTOR functions are resistant to rapamycin, as a result of the kinase activity of one kind of multiprotein complex, the mTOR complex 2 (mTORC2), whereas rapamycin-sensitive functions of mTOR are due to the mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). We have developed new inhibitors of mTOR that bind to the ATP-binding site of mTOR and inhibit the catalytic activity of both mTORC1 and mTORC2 without inhibiting other kinases. Unexpectedly, these inhibitors had profound effects on protein synthesis and cell proliferation due to their inhibition of mTORC1 rather than mTORC2. We found that the phosphorylation of a protein that controls protein synthesis, the mTORC1 substrate 4E binding protein (4EBP) is partially resistant to rapamycin but fully inhibited by our new inhibitors. The finding that 4EBP phosphorylation is resistant to rapamycin suggests that active-site inhibitors may be more effective than rapamycin in the treatment of cancer and may explain why rapamycin is so well tolerated when taken for immunosuppression.
Cells rely on the mammalian target of rapamycin kinase (mTOR) to sense growth factors. Inhibition of all forms of mTOR using newly developed inhibitors of its active site reveals new insights into the function of two mTOR-containing protein complexes and their potential as therapeutic targets.
The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is an evolutionarily conserved serine/threonine protein kinase that regulates numerous cellular processes including cell growth, proliferation, cell cycle, and autophagy. mTOR forms two different multi-protein complexes referred to as mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) and mTORC2, and each complex exerts distinct functions exclusively. mTORC1 activity is sensitive to the selective inhibitor rapamycin, whereas mTORC2 is resistant. mTORC1 is regulated by many intra- and extra-cellular cues such as growth factors, nutrients, and energy-sensing signals, while mTORC2 senses ribosome maturation and growth factor signaling. This review focuses on current understandings by which mTORC1 pathway senses cellular nutrient availability for its activation.
mTORC1; amino acids; rapamycin; Rag GTPase
Autophagy is an intracellular degradation process, through which cytosolic materials are delivered to the lysosome. Despite recent identification of many autophagy-related genes, how autophagosomes are generated remains unclear. Here, we examined the hierarchical relationships among mammalian Atg proteins. Under starvation conditions, ULK1, Atg14, WIPI-1, LC3 and Atg16L1 target to the same compartment, whereas DFCP1 localizes adjacently to these Atg proteins. In terms of puncta formation, the protein complex including ULK1 and FIP200 is the most upstream unit and is required for puncta formation of the Atg14-containing PI3-kinase complex. Puncta formation of both DFCP1 and WIPI-1 requires FIP200 and Atg14. The Atg12-Atg5-Atg16L1 complex and LC3 are downstream units among these factors. The punctate structures containing upstream Atg proteins such as ULK1 and Atg14 tightly associate with the ER, where the ER protein vacuole membrane protein 1 (VMP1) also transiently localizes. These structures are formed even when cells are treated with wortmannin to suppress autophagosome formation. These hierarchical analyses suggest that ULK1, Atg14 and VMP1 localize to the ER-associated autophagosome formation sites in a PI3-kinase activity-independent manner.
autophagosome; PI3-kinase; isolation membrane; endoplasmic reticulum; ULK