The mTOR signalling cascade: paving new roads to cure neurological disease

Nat Rev Neurol. 2016 Jul;12(7):379-92. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2016.81. Epub 2016 Jun 24.


Defining the multiple roles of the mechanistic (formerly 'mammalian') target of rapamycin (mTOR) signalling pathway in neurological diseases has been an exciting and rapidly evolving story of bench-to-bedside translational research that has spanned gene mutation discovery, functional experimental validation of mutations, pharmacological pathway manipulation, and clinical trials. Alterations in the dual contributions of mTOR - regulation of cell growth and proliferation, as well as autophagy and cell death - have been found in developmental brain malformations, epilepsy, autism and intellectual disability, hypoxic-ischaemic and traumatic brain injuries, brain tumours, and neurodegenerative disorders. mTOR integrates a variety of cues, such as growth factor levels, oxygen levels, and nutrient and energy availability, to regulate protein synthesis and cell growth. In line with the positioning of mTOR as a pivotal cell signalling node, altered mTOR activation has been associated with a group of phenotypically diverse neurological disorders. To understand how altered mTOR signalling leads to such divergent phenotypes, we need insight into the differential effects of enhanced or diminished mTOR activation, the developmental context of these changes, and the cell type affected by altered signalling. A particularly exciting feature of the tale of mTOR discovery is that pharmacological mTOR inhibitors have shown clinical benefits in some neurological disorders, such as tuberous sclerosis complex, and are being considered for clinical trials in epilepsy, autism, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and stroke.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / genetics
  • Nervous System Diseases / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology*


  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases