TOR action in mammalian cells and in Caenorhabditis elegans

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2004;279:115-38. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-18930-2_8.


The p70 S6 kinase (p70 S6K) was the first signaling element in mammalian cells shown to be inhibited by rapamycin. The activity of the p70 S6K in mammalian cell is upregulated by extracellular amino acids (especially leucine) and by signals from receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), primarily through activation of the type 1A PI-3 kinase. The amino acid-/rapamycin-sensitive input and the PI-3 kinase input are co-dominant but largely independent, in that deletion of the amino-terminal and carboxy-terminal noncatalytic sequences flanking the p70 S6K catalytic domain renders the kinase insensitive to inhibition by both rapamycin and by withdrawal of amino acids, whereas this p70 S6K mutant remains responsive to activation by RTKs and to inhibition by wortmannin. At a molecular level, this dual control of p70 S6K activity is attributable to phosphorylation of the two p70 S6K sites: The Ptd Ins 3,4,5P3-dependent kinasel (PDK1) phosphorylates p70 S6K at a Thr on the activation loop, whereas mTOR phosphorylates a Thr located in a hydrophobic motif carboxyterminal to the catalytic domain. Together these two phosphorylations engender a strong, positively cooperative activation of p70 S6K, so that each is indispensable for physiologic regulation. Like RTKs, the p70 S6K appears early in metazoan evolution and comes to represent an important site at which the more ancient, nutrient-responsive TOR pathway converges with the RTK/PI-3 kinase pathway in the control of cell growth. Dual regulation of p70 S6K is seen in Drosophila; however, this convergence is not yet evident in Caenorhabditis elegans, wherein nutrient activation of the insulin receptor (InsR) pathway negatively regulates dauer development and longevity, whereas the TOR pathway regulates overall mRNA translation through effectors distinct from p70 S6K, as in yeast. The C. elegans TOR and InsR pathways show none of the cross- or convergent regulation seen in mammalian cells. The nature of the elements that couple nutrient sufficiency to TOR activity remain to be discovered, and the mechanisms by which RTKs influence TOR activity in mammalian cells require further study. One pathway for RTK control involves the tuberous sclerosis complex, which is absent in C. elegans, but of major importance in Drosophila and higher metazoans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / enzymology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / physiology*
  • Cricetinae
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / physiology*
  • Protein Kinases / physiology*
  • Receptor, Insulin / physiology
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / physiology
  • Sirolimus / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)
  • let-363 protein, C elegans
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor, Insulin
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • Sirolimus