mTORC1/2 inhibition preserves ovarian function and fertility during genotoxic chemotherapy
A major unresolved issue for premenopausal women undergoing chemotherapy is infertility due to the loss of nonrenewable ovarian primordial follicles. We show that pharmacologic down-regulation of the mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway during chemotherapy in a mouse model prevents activation of primordial follicles, preserves ovarian function, and maintains normal fertility using clinically available inhibitors of mTOR complex (C)1 and mTORC1/2. These findings represent a feasible pharmacologic approach for preservation of ovarian function and fertility during treatment with conventional chemotherapy.
The ovary contains oocytes within immature (primordial) follicles that are fixed in number at birth. Activation of follicles within this fixed pool causes an irreversible decline in reproductive capacity, known as the ovarian reserve, until menopause. Premenopausal women undergoing commonly used genotoxic (DNA-damaging) chemotherapy experience an accelerated loss of the ovarian reserve, leading to subfertility and infertility. Therefore, there is considerable interest but little effective progress in preserving ovarian function during chemotherapy. Here we show that blocking the kinase mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) with clinically available small-molecule inhibitors preserves ovarian function and fertility during chemotherapy. Using a clinically relevant mouse model of chemotherapy-induced gonadotoxicity by cyclophosphamide, and inhibition of mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) with the clinically approved drug everolimus (RAD001) or inhibition of mTORC1/2 with the experimental drug INK128, we show that mTOR inhibition preserves the ovarian reserve, primordial follicle counts, serum anti-Mullerian hormone levels (a rigorous measure of the ovarian reserve), and fertility. Chemotherapy-treated animals had significantly fewer offspring compared with all other treatment groups, whereas cotreatment with mTOR inhibitors preserved normal fertility. Inhibition of mTORC1 or mTORC1/2 within ovaries was achieved during chemotherapy cotreatment, concomitant with preservation of primordial follicle counts. Importantly, our findings indicate that as little as a two- to fourfold reduction in mTOR activity preserves ovarian function and normal birth numbers. As everolimus is approved for tamoxifen-resistant or relapsing estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, these findings represent a potentially effective and readily accessible pharmacologic approach to fertility preservation during conventional chemotherapy.