The control of cell growth, that is cell size, is largely controlled by mTOR (the mammalian target of rapamycin), a large serine/threonine protein kinase that regulates ribosome biogenesis and protein translation. mTOR activity is regulated both by the availability of growth factors, such as insulin/IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), and by nutrients, notably the supply of certain key amino acids. The last few years have seen a remarkable increase in our understanding of the canonical, growth factor-regulated pathway for mTOR activation, which is mediated by the class I PI3Ks (phosphoinositide 3-kinases), PKB (protein kinase B), TSC1/2 (the tuberous sclerosis complex) and the small GTPase, Rheb. However, the nutrient-responsive input into mTOR is important in its own right and is also required for maximal activation of mTOR signalling by growth factors. Despite this, the details of the nutrient-responsive signalling pathway(s) controlling mTOR have remained elusive, although recent studies have suggested a role for the class III PI3K hVps34. In this issue of the Biochemical Journal, Findlay et al. demonstrate that the protein kinase MAP4K3 [mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase-3, a Ste20 family protein kinase also known as GLK (germinal centre-like kinase)] is a new component of the nutrient-responsive pathway. MAP4K3 activity is stimulated by administration of amino acids, but not growth factors, and this is insensitive to rapamycin, most likely placing MAP4K3 upstream of mTOR. Indeed, MAP4K3 is required for phosphorylation of known mTOR targets such as S6K1 (S6 kinase 1), and overexpression of MAP4K3 promotes the rapamycin-sensitive phosphorylation of these same targets. Finally, knockdown of MAP4K3 levels causes a decrease in cell size. The results suggest that MAP4K3 is a new component in the nutrient-responsive pathway for mTOR activation and reveal a completely new function for MAP4K3 in promoting cell growth. Given that mTOR activity is frequently deregulated in cancer, there is much interest in new strategies for inhibition of this pathway. In this context, MAP4K3 looks like an attractive drug target since inhibitors of this enzyme should switch off mTOR, thereby inhibiting cell growth and proliferation, and promoting apoptosis.
The Biochemical journal, PMID: 17346240