The mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is a multiprotein signaling complex regulated by oncogenes and tumor suppressors. Outputs downstream of mTORC1 include ribosomal protein S6 kinase 1 (S6K1), eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E), and autophagy, and their modulation leads to changes in cell growth, proliferation, and metabolism. Rapamycin, an allosteric mTORC1 inhibitor, does not antagonize equally these outputs, but the reason for this is unknown. Here, we show that the ability of rapamycin to activate autophagy in different cell lines correlates with mTORC1 stability. Rapamycin exposure destabilizes mTORC1, but in cell lines where autophagy is drug insensitive, higher levels of mTOR-bound raptor are detected than in cells where rapamycin stimulates autophagy. Using small interfering RNA (siRNA), we find that knockdown of raptor relieves autophagy and the eIF4E effector pathway from rapamycin resistance. Importantly, nonefficacious concentrations of an ATP-competitive mTOR inhibitor can be combined with rapamycin to synergistically inhibit mTORC1 and activate autophagy but leave mTORC2 signaling intact. These data suggest that partial inhibition of mTORC1 by rapamycin can be overcome using combination strategies and offer a therapeutic avenue to achieve complete and selective inhibition of mTORC1.
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