Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Richard Moran


Pemetrexed (PTX), an antifolate drug, has been approved by the US FDA for first line therapy of mesothelioma and non-small cell lung cancer. In addition to its primary site of action on thymidylate synthase (TS), PTX also inhibits the second folate-dependent enzyme of purine biosynthesis aminoimidazolecarboxamide ribonucleotide formyltransferase (AICART). The accumulation of the substrate for AICART, ZMP, in PTX-inhibited cancer cells leads to activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) with subsequent inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and hypophosphorylation of its downstream targets responsible for protein synthesis and cell proliferation. Inhibitors of mTORC1 like Rapamycin and its analogs (rapalogs) have only partial effects on tumor cells as they do not inhibit mTORC2, which phosphorylates Akt subsequently relieving the inhibition of mTORC1, thus leading to poor cytotoxicity by rapalogs. AMPK exerts control on mTORC1 kinase activity and PTX mediated activation of AMPK leads to its subsequent downregulation and hence, would be expected to have a therapeutic interaction with direct mTOR inhibitors. AZD8055, an ATP-competitive inhibitor of mTOR kinase, potently inhibits both mTORC1 and mTORC2 and therefore, can overcome the feedback mechanism(s) limiting the action of rapalogs to cytostatic effects. To study the effects of AMPK activation and mTOR inhibition pharmacologically, we performed growth suppression assays using pemetrexed, AICAR, RAD001, and AZD8055. The effect of inhibition of mTOR with these drugs was assessed by examining the dephosphorylation of mTORC1 substrates S6K1 and 4E-BP1, as single agents and in combination, at their 50% inhibitory concentrations (IC50) by western blotting. Our data suggested that AMPK activation via PTX mediated AICART inhibition in combination with direct mTOR inhibition by AZD8055 has a synergistic interaction on the proliferation of NSCLC cells in culture. Inhibition of mTOR endogenously by pemetrexed, along with direct pharmacological inhibition of mTOR prevents the feedback circuit which may compromise the therapeutic efficacy of rapamycin analogs. Pemetrexed and AZD8055, as single agents, demonstrated inhibitory activity on phosphorylation events of mTORC1 substrates. This activity was markedly increased by combining both the drugs. Our findings suggest that direct inhibitors of mTOR enhance the effects of activators of AMPK. These effects appear to be mediated via combined effects on mTORC1. Taken together, the combination of catalytic site mTOR inhibitors and pemetrexed is a promising therapeutic strategy and calls for further preclinical and clinical investigations.


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