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Methods Enzymol. 2009;452:165-80. doi: 10.1016/S0076-6879(08)03611-2.

Monitoring mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activity.

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Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.


Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is an evolutionarily conserved serine/threonine protein kinase implicated in a wide array of cellular processes such as cell growth, proliferation, and survival. Analogous to the situation in yeast, mTOR forms two distinct functional complexes termed mTOR complex 1 and 2 (mTORC1 and mTORC2). mTORC1 activity is inhibited by rapamycin, a specific inhibitor of mTOR, whereas mTORC2 activity is resistant to short-term treatments with rapamycin. In response to growth factors, mTORC2 phosphorylates Akt, an essential kinase involved in cell survival. On the other hand, mTORC1 can be activated by both growth factors and nutrients such as glucose and amino acids. In turn, mTORC1 regulates the activity of the translational machinery by modulating S6 kinase (S6K) activity and eIF4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) through direct phosphorylation. Consequently, protein synthesis and cell growth are stimulated in a variety of different cell types. In addition, mTORC1 inhibits autophagy, an essential protein degradation and recycling system, which cells employ to sustain their viability in times of limited availability of nutrients. Recent studies have highlighted the fact that autophagy plays crucial roles in many aspects of human health including cancer development, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, and aging. It is likely that dysregulation of the mTOR-autophagy pathway may contribute at least in part to these human disorders. Therefore, the assessment of mTOR activity is important to understand the status of autophagy in the cells being analyzed and its role in autophagy-related disorders. In this section, we describe methods to monitor mTOR activity both in vitro and in vivo.

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