Activation of mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) in rheumatic diseases

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2016 Mar;12(3):169-82. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2015.172. Epub 2015 Dec 24.


Mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR, also known as mammalian target of rapamycin) is a ubiquitous serine/threonine kinase that regulates cell growth, proliferation and survival. These effects are cell-type-specific, and are elicited in response to stimulation by growth factors, hormones and cytokines, as well as to internal and external metabolic cues. Rapamycin was initially developed as an inhibitor of T-cell proliferation and allograft rejection in the organ transplant setting. Subsequently, its molecular target (mTOR) was identified as a component of two interacting complexes, mTORC1 and mTORC2, that regulate T-cell lineage specification and macrophage differentiation. mTORC1 drives the proinflammatory expansion of T helper (TH) type 1, TH17, and CD4(-)CD8(-) (double-negative, DN) T cells. Both mTORC1 and mTORC2 inhibit the development of CD4(+)CD25(+)FoxP3(+) T regulatory (TREG) cells and, indirectly, mTORC2 favours the expansion of T follicular helper (TFH) cells which, similarly to DN T cells, promote B-cell activation and autoantibody production. In contrast to this proinflammatory effect of mTORC2, mTORC1 favours, to some extent, an anti-inflammatory macrophage polarization that is protective against infections and tissue inflammation. Outside the immune system, mTORC1 controls fibroblast proliferation and chondrocyte survival, with implications for tissue fibrosis and osteoarthritis, respectively. Rapamycin (which primarily inhibits mTORC1), ATP-competitive, dual mTORC1/mTORC2 inhibitors and upstream regulators of the mTOR pathway are being developed to treat autoimmune, hyperproliferative and degenerative diseases. In this regard, mTOR blockade promises to increase life expectancy through treatment and prevention of rheumatic diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Diseases / enzymology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases