Background: Our understanding of signal transduction networks in the physiological context of an organism remains limited, partly due to the technical challenge of identifying serine/threonine phosphorylated peptides from complex tissue samples. In the present study, we focused on signaling through the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) complex 1 (mTORC1), which is at the center of a nutrient- and growth factor-responsive cell signaling network. Though studied extensively, the mechanisms involved in many mTORC1 biological functions remain poorly understood.
Methodology/principal findings: We developed a phosphoproteomic strategy to purify, enrich and identify phosphopeptides from rat liver homogenates. Using the anticancer drug rapamycin, the only known target of which is mTORC1, we characterized signaling in liver from rats in which the complex was maximally activated by refeeding following 48 hr of starvation. Using protein and peptide fractionation methods, TiO(2) affinity purification of phosphopeptides and mass spectrometry, we reproducibly identified and quantified over four thousand phosphopeptides. Along with 5 known rapamycin-sensitive phosphorylation events, we identified 62 new rapamycin-responsive candidate phosphorylation sites. Among these were PRAS40, gephyrin, and AMP kinase 2. We observed similar proportions of increased and reduced phosphorylation in response to rapamycin. Gene ontology analysis revealed over-representation of mTOR pathway components among rapamycin-sensitive phosphopeptide candidates.
Conclusions/significance: In addition to identifying potential new mTORC1-mediated phosphorylation events, and providing information relevant to the biology of this signaling network, our experimental and analytical approaches indicate the feasibility of large-scale phosphoproteomic profiling of tissue samples to study physiological signaling events in vivo.