MTOR: Uncovering the link from nutrients to growth
The mechanisms that regulate organismal growth and coordinate it with the availability of nutrients were unknown until a few decades ago. We now know that one pathway—the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway—is the major nutrient-sensitive regulator of growth in animals and plays a central role in physiology, metabolism, the aging process, and common diseases. This work describes the development of the mTOR field, from its origins in studies into the mechanism of action of the drug rapamycin to our increasingly sophisticated understanding of how nutrients are sensed.
In my PNAS Inaugural Article, I describe the development of the mTOR field, starting with efforts to understand the mechanism of action of the drug rapamycin, which ∼25 y ago led to the discovery of the mTOR protein kinase. I focus on insights that we have contributed and on work that has been particularly influential to me, as well as provide some personal reflections and stories. We now appreciate that, as part of two distinct complexes, mTORC1 and mTORC2, mTOR is the major regulator of growth (mass accumulation) in animals and is the key link between the availability of nutrients in the environment and the control of most anabolic and catabolic processes. Nutrients signal to mTORC1 through the lysosome-associated Rag GTPases and their many regulators and associated cytosolic and lysosomal nutrient sensors. mTOR signaling is deregulated in common diseases, like cancer and epilepsy, and mTORC1 is a well-validated modulator of aging in multiple model organisms. There is significant excitement around using mTORC1 inhibitors to treat cancer and neurological disease and, potentially, to improve healthspan and lifespan.
I decided to use my PNAS Inaugural Article to write about the development of the mTOR field and to provide some personal recollections that highlight work that has been particularly influential to me. I suppose one writes such pieces when one has been around for a while. This appears to be the case, even though I am still surprised when someone refers to me as senior or I am asked by young scientists to talk about my career.