In 1321N1 astrocytoma cells, carbachol stimulation of M3 muscarinic cholinergic receptors, coupled to phospholipase C, evoked a persistent 10-20-fold activation of p70 S6 kinase (S6K1). This response was abolished by chelation of cytosolic Ca2+ and reproduced by the Ca2+ ionophore ionomycin, but was not prevented by down-regulation or inhibition of protein kinase C. Carbachol-stimulated activation and phosphorylation of S6K1 at Thr389 were prevented by rapamycin, an inhibitor of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), or by wortmannin, a phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibitor. Carbachol also stimulated the phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor 4E-binding protein-1 (4E-BP1), a second mTOR-dependent event, with similar potency to its effect on S6K1. This response was blocked by rapamycin, but was not markedly affected by 100 nM wortmannin, implying separate roles for mTOR and PI3K in S6K1 activation. Wortmannin abolished the carbachol-stimulated rise in PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 and greatly reduced unstimulated levels of this lipid. By contrast, an inhibitor of epidermal growth factor receptor kinase, AG1478, which prevents carbachol-stimulated ErbB3 transactivation, PI3K recruitment and protein kinase B activation in 1321N1 cells, reduced activation of S6K1 by no more than 30%. This effect was overcome by 10 nM insulin, which on its own did not stimulate S6K1, but increased cellular PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 concentrations comparably with carbachol alone. These observations distinguish obligatory roles for mTOR and PI3K in regulating S6K1, but imply that minimal PI3K activity is sufficient to permit stimulation of S6K1 by other activating factors such as increased cytosolic Ca2+ concentrations, which are essential to the muscarinic receptor-mediated response. Moreover, 4E-BP1 and hence, presumably, mTOR can be regulated independently of PI3K activation through these mechanisms.