Growth factors provide permission signals that allow mammalian cells to grow, proliferate and survive. One mechanism by which growth factors maintain this control is through the regulation of cell surface nutrient transporter expression. Following growth factor withdrawal, nutrient transporters are endocytosed and degraded in the lysosome, effectively terminating the cell's ability to obtain nutrients. This results in a state of pseudostarvation in which cells atrophy and initiate a catabolic metabolic programme in the midst of abundant extracellular nutrients. Oncogenic forms of Akt can support growth factor-independent nutrient transporter expression through a mechanism that depends upon mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). The ability of activated Akt to support nutrient transporter expression is an essential component of its prosurvival function. When the destruction of nutrient transporters is inhibited, cells are capable of long-term growth-factor-independent cell survival in the absence of receptor-dependent signal transduction. These results imply that proteins involved in nutrient transporter turnover in response to growth factor withdrawal are components of a novel tumour suppressor pathway. Preliminary data suggest that Rab7, a GTPase required for transporter degradation, functions as a tumour suppressor protein, as inhibiting Rab7 activity promotes colony formation in soft agar. These studies indicate that drugs affecting this pathway might have utility as anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agents.

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