Alteration of mTOR signaling occurs early in the progression of Alzheimer disease (AD): analysis of brain from subjects with pre-clinical AD, amnestic mild cognitive impairment and late-stage AD

J Neurochem. 2015 Jun;133(5):739-49. doi: 10.1111/jnc.13037. Epub 2015 Feb 26.


The clinical symptoms of Alzheimer disease (AD) include a gradual memory loss and subsequent dementia, and neuropathological deposition of senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. At the molecular level, AD subjects present overt amyloid β (Aβ) production and tau hyperphosphorylation. Aβ species have been proposed to overactivate the phosphoinositide3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) axis, which plays a central role in proteostasis. The current study investigated the status of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway in post-mortem tissue from the inferior parietal lobule (IPL) at three different stages of AD: late AD, amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and pre-clinical AD (PCAD). Our findings suggest that the alteration of mTOR signaling and autophagy occurs at early stages of AD. We found a significant increase in Aβ (1-42) levels, associated with reduction in autophagy (Beclin-1 and LC-3) observed in PCAD, MCI, and AD subjects. Related to the autophagy impairment, we found a hyperactivation of PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway in IPL of MCI and AD subjects, but not in PCAD, along with a significant decrease in phosphatase and tensin homolog. An increase in two mTOR downstream targets, p70S6K and 4EBP1, occurred in AD and MCI subjects. Both AD and MCI subjects showed increased, insulin receptor substrate 1, a candidate biomarker of brain insulin resistance, and GSK-3β, a kinase targeting tau phosphorylation. Nevertheless, tau phosphorylation was increased in the clinical groups. The results hint at a link between Aβ and the PI3K/Akt/mTOR axis and provide further insights into the relationship between AD pathology and insulin resistance. In addition, we speculate that the alteration of mTOR signaling in the IPL of AD and MCI subjects, but not in PCAD, is due to the lack of substantial increase in oxidative stress. The figure represents the three different stages of Alzheimer Disease: Preclinical Alzheimer Disease (PCAD), Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and late stage of Alzheimer Disease. The progression of the disease is associated with a reduction in autophagy (Beclin-1 and LC-3) observed in Inferior parietal lobe of PCAD, MCI, and AD subjects (light red). Related to the autophagy impairment, the graph shows the impairment of PI3K/Akt/mTOR in MCI and AD subjects (dark red).

Keywords: Alzheimer disease progression; Preclinical Alzheimer disease; amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI); mTOR signaling, autophagy.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / analysis
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Autophagy
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Oncogene Protein v-akt / physiology
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • tau Proteins
  • MTOR protein, human
  • Oncogene Protein v-akt
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases