The yeast Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 (TORC1) plays a central role in controlling growth. How amino acids and other nutrients stimulate its activity via the Rag/Gtr GTPases remains poorly understood. We here report that the signal triggering Rag/Gtr-dependent TORC1 activation upon amino-acid uptake is the coupled H + influx catalyzed by amino-acid/H + symporters. H +-dependent uptake of other nutrients, ionophore-mediated H + diffusion, and inhibition of the vacuolar V-ATPase also activate TORC1. As the increase in cytosolic H + elicited by these processes stimulates the compensating H +-export activity of the plasma membrane H +-ATPase (Pma1), we have examined whether this major ATP-consuming enzyme might be involved in TORC1 control. We find that when the endogenous Pma1 is replaced with a plant H +-ATPase, H + influx or increase fails to activate TORC1. Our results show that H + influx coupled to nutrient uptake stimulates TORC1 activity and that Pma1 is a key actor in this mechanism.
Cells adapt their growth rate depending on the amount of nutrients available. The protein complex called TORC1 plays a central role in this. When nutrients are abundant, TORC1 is very active and stimulates the production of proteins and other molecules needed for the cell to grow. However, when nutrients such as amino acids become scarce, TORC1 reduces its activity and allows the cells to adapt to starvation. This TORC1-mediated control of the metabolism is crucial for the cell to survive, and faulty TORC1 proteins have been associated with several diseases including cancers.
TORC1 was originally discovered in yeast, which provides a powerful model to study this control system. However, until now, it was not known how TORC1 is reactivated when amino acids are added to cells that have been starved of these molecules. Knowing the answer to this question would allow us to better understand how the availability of nutrients controls the activity of TORC1.
Now, Saliba et al. have discovered that TORC1 is not reactivated by the amino acids themselves, but by protons, which are positively charged hydrogen ions that travel into the cell together with the amino acids. This influx of protons is the driving force behind the active transport of amino acids and other nutrients into the cell, and potentially serves as a general signal to activate TORC1 in response to the uptake of nutrients, especially when cells have been starved.
Furthermore, the results showed that a specific enzyme in the cell membrane plays an essential role in activating TORC1. This enzyme pumps the protons out of the cell to compensate for their influx and to maintain the proton gradient in the membrane that drives the absorption of nutrients. When this enzyme was replaced with an equivalent plant enzyme, the proton-coupled nutrient uptake did not activate TORC1 in the yeast cells.
These findings may help scientists who are interested in how TORC1 is regulated in organisms other than mammals, such as plants or fungi. A next step will be to find out how exactly the proton pump in the cell membrane helps to activate TORC1.