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Rapamycin and mTOR: a serendipitous discovery and implications for breast cancer

Belinda Seto

Author Affiliations

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, 9000 Rockville Pike, Building 31, Room 1C14, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

Clinical and Translational Medicine 2012, 1:29  doi:10.1186/2001-1326-1-29

Published: 15 November 2012


Rapamycin was discovered more than thirty years ago from a soil sample from the island of Rapa Nui. It was isolated from Streptomyces hygroscopicus and initial characterization focused on its antifungal activities. Subsequent characterization showed that it has immunosuppressive properties and has been used successfully to reduce organ rejection with kidney transplantation. Rapamycin has proven to be a versatile compound with several seemingly unrelated properties, including antifungal, immunosuppressive, and anticancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Developmental Therapeutics Program demonstrated that rapamycin inhibited cell growth in tumor cell lines. These observations stimulated research to explore the underlying mechanism of anti-tumor activities. Cell growth inhibition involves binding to the mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR). The mTOR signaling pathway is critical to cell growth, proliferation, and survival and rapamycin inhibits these hallmark processes of cancer. Binding of growth factors activates mTOR signaling, which in turn leads to downstream phosphorylation of protein kinases, e.g., p70S6 kinase and lipid kinases in the phosphorylation of phosphoinositides. Understanding of mTOR signaling provided the biological basis for targeted chemotherapeutics development, including several rapamycin analogues for treating breast and other cancers.

Rapamycin; Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR); Breast cancer; Targeted chemotherapeutics; Clinical translation