mTORC1 induces purine synthesis through control of the mitochondrial tetrahydrofolate cycle

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 728-733
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0489

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Controlling supplies for DNA and RNA synthesis

The mTORC1 protein kinase complex regulates anabolic metabolism and coordinates cellular signals that promote growth with availability of required precursor metabolites. Signaling through mTORC1 controls pyrimidine synthesis. Ben-Sahra et al. found that mTORC1 also functions by a different mechanism to regulate purine biosynthesis, thus generating precursors for the synthesis of RNA and DNA (see the Perspective by Ma and Jones). Signaling by mTORC1 caused accumulation of the transcription factor ATF4, which enhances production of the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 2, thus leading to increased production of the purine nucleotides needed for cell growth.

Science, this issue p. 728; see also p. 670


In response to growth signals, mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) stimulates anabolic processes underlying cell growth. We found that mTORC1 increases metabolic flux through the de novo purine synthesis pathway in various mouse and human cells, thereby influencing the nucleotide pool available for nucleic acid synthesis. mTORC1 had transcriptional effects on multiple enzymes contributing to purine synthesis, with expression of the mitochondrial tetrahydrofolate (mTHF) cycle enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 2 (MTHFD2) being closely associated with mTORC1 signaling in both normal and cancer cells. MTHFD2 expression and purine synthesis were stimulated by activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4), which was activated by mTORC1 independent of its canonical induction downstream of eukaryotic initiation factor 2α eIF2α phosphorylation. Thus, mTORC1 stimulates the mTHF cycle, which contributes one-carbon units to enhance production of purine nucleotides in response to growth signals.

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