Although all cells depend upon nutrients they acquire from the extracellular space, surprisingly little is known about how nutrient uptake is regulated in mammalian cells. Most nutrients are brought into cells by means of specific transporter proteins. In yeast, the expression and trafficking of a wide variety of nutrient transporters is controlled by the TOR (target of rapamycin) kinase. Consistent with this, recent studies in mammalian cells have shown that mTOR (mammalian TOR) and the related protein, PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase), play central roles in coupling nutrient transporter expression to the availability of extrinsic trophic and survival signals. In the case of lymphocytes, it has been particularly well established that these extrinsic signals stimulate cell growth and proliferation in part by regulating nutrient transporter expression. The ability of growth factors to control nutrient access may also play an important role in tumour suppression: the non-homoeostatic growth of tumour cells requires that nutrient transporter expression is uncoupled from trophic factor availability. Also supporting a link between nutrient transporter expression levels and oncogenesis, several recent studies demonstrate that nutrient transporter expression drives, rather than simply parallels, cellular metabolism. This review summarizes the evidence that regulated nutrient transporter expression plays a central role in cellular growth control and highlights the implications of these findings for human disease.

You do not currently have access to this content.