Rapamycin-Induced miR-21 Promotes Mitochondrial Homeostasis and Adaptation in mTORC1 Activated Cells


mTORC1 hyperactivation drives the multi-organ hamartomatous disease tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). Rapamycin inhibits mTORC1, inducing partial tumor responses; however, the tumors regrow following treatment cessation. We discovered that the oncogenic miRNA, miR-21, is increased in Tsc2-deficient cells and, surprisingly, further increased by rapamycin. To determine the impact of miR-21 in TSC, we inhibited miR-21 in vitro. miR-21 inhibition significantly repressed the tumorigenic potential of Tsc2-deficient cells and increased apoptosis sensitivity. Tsc2-deficient cells’ clonogenic and anchorage independent growth were reduced by approximately 50% (p < 0.01) and approximately 75% (p < 0.0001), respectively, and combined rapamycin treatment decreased soft agar growth by approximately 90% (p < 0.0001). miR-21 inhibition also increased sensitivity to apoptosis. Through a network biology-driven integration of RNAseq data, we discovered that miR-21 promotes mitochondrial adaptation and homeostasis in Tsc2-deficient cells. miR-21 inhibition reduced mitochondrial polarization and function in Tsc2-deficient cells, with and without co-treatment with rapamycin. Importantly, miR-21 inhibition limited Tsc2-deficient tumor growth in vivo, reducing tumor size by approximately 3-fold (p < 0.0001). When combined with rapamcyin, miR-21 inhibition showed even more striking efficacy, both during treatment and after treatment cessation, with a 4-fold increase in median survival following rapamycin cessation (p = 0.0008). We conclude that miR-21 promotes mTORC1-driven tumorigenesis via a mechanism that involves the mitochondria, and that miR-21 is a potential therapeutic target for TSC-associated hamartomas and other mTORC1-driven tumors, with the potential for synergistic efficacy when combined with rapalogs.