Dynamic modeling of signal transduction by mTOR complexes in cancer

J Theor Biol. 2019 Dec 21:483:109992. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2019.109992. Epub 2019 Sep 4.


Signal integration has a crucial role in the cell fate decision and dysregulation of the cellular signaling pathways is a primary characteristic of cancer. As a signal integrator, mTOR shows a complex dynamical behavior which determines the cell fate at different cellular processes levels, including cell cycle progression, cell survival, cell death, metabolic reprogramming, and aging. The dynamics of the complex responses to rapamycin in cancer cells have been attributed to its differential time-dependent inhibitory effects on mTORC1 and mTORC2, the two main complexes of mTOR. Two explanations were previously provided for this phenomenon: 1-Rapamycin does not inhibit mTORC2 directly, whereas it prevents mTORC2 formation by sequestering free mTOR protein (Le Chatelier's principle). 2-Components like Phosphatidic Acid (PA) further stabilize mTORC2 compared with mTORC1. To understand the mechanism by which rapamycin differentially inhibits the mTOR complexes in the cancer cells, we present a mathematical model of rapamycin mode of action based on the first explanation, i.e., Le Chatelier's principle. Translating the interactions among components of mTORC1 and mTORC2 into a mathematical model revealed the dynamics of rapamycin action in different doses and time-intervals of rapamycin treatment. This model shows that rapamycin has stronger effects on mTORC1 compared with mTORC2, simply due to its direct interaction with free mTOR and mTORC1, but not mTORC2, without the need to consider other components that might further stabilize mTORC2. Based on our results, even when mTORC2 is less stable compared with mTORC1, it can be less inhibited by rapamycin.

Keywords: Cell Signaling; Mathematical Model; Rapamycin; Systems Biology; Systems pharmacology; mTOR.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 / metabolism
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 2 / metabolism
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 2
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Sirolimus