Advances in understanding the mechanisms of evasive and innate resistance to mTOR inhibition in cancer cells

Francesca Chiarini, Camilla Evangelisti, Giovanna Lattanzi, James A McCubrey, Alberto M Martelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The development of drug-resistance by neoplastic cells is recognized as a major cause of targeted therapy failure and disease progression. The mechanistic (previously mammalian) target of rapamycin (mTOR) is a highly conserved Ser/Thr kinase that acts as the catalytic subunit of two structurally and functionally distinct large multiprotein complexes, referred to as mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) and mTORC2. Both mTORC1 and mTORC2 play key roles in a variety of healthy cell types/tissues by regulating physiological anabolic and catabolic processes in response to external cues. However, a body of evidence identified aberrant activation of mTOR signaling as a common event in many human tumors. Therefore, mTOR is an attractive target for therapeutic targeting in cancer and this fact has driven the development of numerous mTOR inhibitors, several of which have progressed to clinical trials. Nevertheless, mTOR inhibitors have met with a very limited success as anticancer therapeutics. Among other reasons, this failure was initially ascribed to the activation of several compensatory signaling pathways that dampen the efficacy of mTOR inhibitors. The discovery of these regulatory feedback mechanisms greatly contributed to a better understanding of cancer cell resistance to mTOR targeting agents. However, over the last few years, other mechanisms of resistance have emerged, including epigenetic alterations, compensatory metabolism rewiring and the occurrence of mTOR mutations. In this article, we provide the reader with an updated overview of the mechanisms that could explain resistance of cancer cells to the various classes of mTOR inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1322-1337
Number of pages16
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Cell Research
Issue number8
Early online dateMar 27 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Cell signaling pathways
  • Drug-resistance
  • Epigenetics
  • Metabolism
  • Mutations
  • Target therapies


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