Target of rapamycin (TOR) was first identified in yeast as a target molecule of rapamycin, an anti-fugal and immunosuppressant macrolide compound. In mammals, its orthologue is called mammalian TOR (mTOR). mTOR is a serine/threonine kinase that converges different extracellular stimuli, such as nutrients and growth factors, and diverges into several biochemical reactions, including translation, autophagy, transcription, and lipid synthesis among others. These biochemical reactions govern cell growth and cause cells to attain an anabolic state. Thus, the disruption of mTOR signaling is implicated in a wide array of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity. In the central nervous system, the mTOR signaling cascade is activated by nutrients, neurotrophic factors, and neurotransmitters that enhances protein (and possibly lipid) synthesis and suppresses autophagy. These processes contribute to normal neuronal growth by promoting their differentiation, neurite elongation and branching, and synaptic formation during development. Therefore, disruption of mTOR signaling may cause neuronal degeneration and abnormal neural development. While reduced mTOR signaling is associated with neurodegeneration, excess activation of mTOR signaling causes abnormal development of neurons and glia, leading to brain malformation. In this review, we first introduce the current state of molecular knowledge of mTOR complexes and signaling in general. We then describe mTOR activation in neurons, which leads to translational enhancement, and finally discuss the link between mTOR and normal/abnormal neuronal growth during development.
Keywords: BDNF; CNS neurons; TSC/mTOR; amino acids; brain malformation; mTORC1 signaling; protein synthesis; translational control.