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.