mTOR and metabolic pathways in T cell quiescence and functional activation

Semin Immunol. 2012 Dec;24(6):421-8. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2012.12.004. Epub 2013 Feb 1.


The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), an evolutionally conserved serine and threonine kinase, plays a critical role in the promotion of cell growth and proliferation via integration of cellular and environmental cues. In adaptive immunity, the mTOR pathway orchestrates multiple physiological processes including the development and homeostasis of T cells under steady state, and their subsequent activation and differentiation upon antigen recognition. Associated with such fate decisions is the dynamic reprogramming of T cell metabolic pathways, as naïve, activated and memory cells are defined by distinct bioenergetic and biosynthetic activities. Emerging evidence indicates that mTOR signaling intersects with T cell metabolism at two major levels to constitute a critical control mechanism of T cell fate decisions. First, as a central environmental sensor, mTOR links immune signaling and the availability of nutrients, especially amino acids. Second, mTOR activates specific metabolic pathways in T cells such as aerobic glycolysis (also known as the "Warburg effect") in a process dependent upon the induction of transcription factors MYC and HIF1α. Understanding how mTOR interplays with T cell metabolism to dictate T cell fates and functions will provide fundamental insights into the mechanism of immune responses and the development of novel therapeutics against immune-mediated diseases. In this review, we summarize the current advances on mTOR signaling and T cell metabolism in the control of development, homeostasis, activation and differentiation of T cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes* / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes* / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes* / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes* / physiology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism


  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases