Targeting mTOR globally in cancer: thinking beyond rapamycin

Cell Cycle. 2009 Dec;8(23):3831-7. doi: 10.4161/cc.8.23.10070. Epub 2009 Dec 14.


The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is centrally involved in growth, survival and metabolism. In cancer, mTOR is frequently hyperactivated and is a clinically validated target for drug development. Until recently, we have relied largely on the use of rapamycin to study mTOR function and its anticancer potential. Recent insights now indicate that rapamycin is a partial inhibitor of mTOR through allosteric inhibition of mTOR complex-1 (mTORC1) but not mTOR complex-2 (mTORC2). Both the mechanism of action and the cellular response to mTORC1 inhibition by rapamycin and related drugs may limit the effectiveness of these compounds as antitumor agents. We and others have recently reported the discovery of second-generation ATP-competitive mTOR kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that bind to the active sites of mTORC1 and mTORC2, thereby targeting mTOR signaling function globally (reviewed in refs. 1-4). The discovery of specific, active-site mTOR inhibitors has opened a new chapter in the 40-plus year old odyssey that began with the discovery of rapamycin from a soil sample collected on Easter Island (see Vézina C, et al. J Antibiot 1975). Here, we discuss recent studies that highlight the emergence of rapamycin-resistant mTOR function in protein synthesis, cell growth, survival and metabolism. It is shown that these rapamycin-resistant mTOR functions are profoundly inhibited by TKIs. A more complete suppression of mTOR global signaling network by the new inhibitors is expected to yield a deeper and broader antitumor response in the clinic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Sirolimus