mTOR inhibits autophagy by controlling ULK1 ubiquitylation, self-association and function through AMBRA1 and TRAF6

Nat Cell Biol. 2013 Apr;15(4):406-16. doi: 10.1038/ncb2708. Epub 2013 Mar 24.


Autophagy is important in the basal or stress-induced clearance of bulk cytosol, damaged organelles, pathogens and selected proteins by specific vesicles, the autophagosomes. Following mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) inhibition, autophagosome formation is primed by the ULK1 and the beclin-1-Vps34-AMBRA1 complexes, which are linked together by a scaffold platform, the exocyst. Although several regulative steps have been described along this pathway, few targets of mTOR are known, and the cross-talk between ULK1 and beclin 1 complexes is still not fully understood. We show that under non-autophagic conditions, mTOR inhibits AMBRA1 by phosphorylation, whereas on autophagy induction, AMBRA1 is dephosphorylated. In this condition, AMBRA1, interacting with the E3-ligase TRAF6, supports ULK1 ubiquitylation by LYS-63-linked chains, and its subsequent stabilization, self-association and function. As ULK1 has been shown to activate AMBRA1 by phosphorylation, the proposed pathway may act as a positive regulation loop, which may be targeted in human disorders linked to impaired autophagy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism*
  • Autophagy*
  • Autophagy-Related Protein-1 Homolog
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cells, Cultured
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / chemistry*
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / chemistry*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 6 / genetics
  • TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 6 / metabolism*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitination


  • AMBRA1 protein, human
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 6
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Autophagy-Related Protein-1 Homolog
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • ULK1 protein, human