mTOR Inhibition Restores Amino Acid Balance in Cells Dependent on Catabolism of Extracellular Protein

Michel Nofal, Kevin Zhang, Seunghun Han, Joshua D. Rabinowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Scavenging of extracellular protein via macropinocytosis is an alternative to monomeric amino acid uptake. In pancreatic cancer, macropinocytosis is driven by oncogenic Ras signaling and contributes substantially to amino acid supply. While Ras signaling promotes scavenging, mTOR signaling suppresses it. Here, we present an integrated experimental-computational method that enables quantitative comparison of protein scavenging rates across cell lines and conditions. Using it, we find that, independently of mTORC1, amino acid scarcity induces protein scavenging and that under such conditions the impact of mTOR signaling on protein scavenging rate is minimal. Nevertheless, mTOR inhibition promotes growth of cells reliant on eating extracellular protein. This growth enhancement depends on mTORC1's canonical function in controlling translation rate: mTOR inhibition slows translation, thereby matching protein synthesis to the limited amino acid supply. Thus, paradoxically, in amino acid-poor conditions the pro-anabolic effects of mTORC1 are functionally opposed to growth. Catabolism of extracellular protein enables tumor cells to grow in amino acid-poor conditions. Nofal et al. show that inhibition of mTORC1 promotes growth in these conditions in large part by reducing protein synthesis to preserve limited amino acid pools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)936-946.e5
JournalMolecular Cell
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 21 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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