The story of rapamycin is a pharmaceutical fairytale. Discovered as an antifungal activity in a soil sample collected on Easter Island, this macrocyclic lactone and its derivatives are now billion dollar drugs, used in, and being evaluated for, a number of clinical applications. Taking advantage of its antifungal property, the molecular Target Of Rapamycin, TOR, was first described in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. TORs encode large, Ser/Thr protein kinases that reside in two distinct, structurally and functionally conserved, multi-protein complexes. In yeast, these complexes coordinate many different aspects of cell growth. TOR complex 1, TORC1, promotes protein synthesis and other anabolic processes, while inhibiting macroautophagy and other catabolic and stress-response processes. TORC2 primarily regulates cell polarity, although additional readouts of this complex are beginning to be characterized. TORC1 appears to be activated by nutrient cues and inhibited by stresses and rapamycin; however, detailed mechanisms are not known. In contrast, TORC2 is insensitive to rapamycin and physiological regulators of this complex have yet to be defined. Given the unsurpassed resources available to yeast researchers, this simple eukaryote continues to contribute to our understanding of eukaryotic cell growth in general and TOR function in particular.
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