The translation of mRNA in eukaryotic cells is regulated by amino acids through multiple mechanisms. One such mechanism involves activation of mTOR (Fig. 1). mTOR controls a myriad of downstream effectors, including RNA polymerase I, S6K1, 4E-BP1, and eEF2 kinase. In yeast, and probably in higher eukaryotes, mTOR signals through Tap42p/alpha 4 to regulate protein phosphatases. Through phosphorylation of Tap42p/alpha 4, mTOR abrogates dephosphorylation of the downstream effectors by PP2 A and/or PP6, resulting in their increased phosphorylation. Although at this time still speculative, in vitro results using mTOR immunoprecipitates suggest that mTOR, or an associated kinase, may also be directly involved in phosphorylating some effectors. Enhanced RNA polymerase I activity results in increased transcription of rDNA genes, whereas increased S6K1 activity promotes preferential translation of TOP mRNAs, such as those encoding ribosomal proteins. Together, stimulated RNA polymerase I and S6K1 activities enhance ribosome biogenesis, increasing the translational capacity of the cell. Phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 prohibits its association with eIF4E, allowing eIF4E to bind to eIF4G and form the active eIF4F complex. Increased eIF4F formation preferentially stimulates translation of mRNAs containing long, highly-structured 5' UTRs. Finally, amino acids cause inhibition of the eEF2 kinase, resulting in an increase in the proportion of eEF2 in the active, dephosphorylated form. By inhibiting eEF2 phosphorylation, amino acids may not only stimulate translation elongation, but may also prevent activation of GCN2 by enhancing the rate of removal of deacylated tRNA from the P-site on the ribosome; a potential activator of GCN2. GCN2 may also be regulated directly by the accumulation of deacylated-tRNA caused by treatment with inhibitors of tRNA synthetases or in cells incubated in the absence of essential amino acids. However, because the Km of the tRNA synthetases for amino acids is well above the amino acid concentrations found in plasma of fasted animals, such a mechanism may not be operative in mammals in vivo. Activation of GCN2 results in increased phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of eIF2, which in turn causes inhibition of eIF2B. Thus, by preventing activation of GCN2, amino acids preserve eIF2B activity, which promotes translation of all mRNAs, i.e., global protein synthesis is enhanced.
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