Structure of S6 kinase 1 determines whether raptor-mTOR or rictor-mTOR phosphorylates its hydrophobic motif site.
The mTOR protein kinase is the target of the immunosuppressive and anti-cancer drug rapamycin and is increasingly recognized as a key regulator of cell growth in mammals. S6 kinase 1 (S6K1) is the best characterized effector of mTOR, and its regulation serves as a model for mTOR signaling. Nutrients and growth factors activate S6K1 by inducing the phosphorylation of threonine 389 in the hydrophobic motif of S6K1. As phosphorylation of Thr(389) is rapamycin sensitive and mTOR can phosphorylate the same site in vitro, it has been suggested that mTOR is the physiological Thr(389) kinase. This proposal is not supported, however, by the existence of mutants of S6K1 that are phosphorylated in vivo on Thr(389) in a rapamycin-resistant fashion. Here, we demonstrate that the raptor-mTOR complex phosphorylates the rapamycin-sensitive forms of S6K1, while the distinct rictor-mTOR complex phosphorylates the rapamycin-resistant mutants of S6K1. Phosphorylation of Thr(389) by rictor-mTOR is independent of the TOR signaling motif and depends on removal of the carboxyl terminal domain of S6K1. Because many members of the AGC family of kinases lack an analogous domain, rictor-mTOR may phosphorylate the hydrophobic motifs of other kinases.