Resources are needed for growth, reproduction and survival, and organisms must trade off limited resources among competing processes. Nutritional availability in organisms is sensed and monitored by nutrient-sensing pathways that can trigger physiological changes or alter gene expression. Previous studies have proposed that one such signalling pathway, the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), underpins a form of adaptive plasticity when individuals encounter constraints in their energy budget. Despite the fundamental importance of this process in evolutionary biology, how nutritional limitation is regulated through the expression of genes governing this pathway and its consequential effects on fitness remain understudied, particularly in birds. We used dietary restriction to simulate resource depletion and examined its effects on body mass, reproduction and gene expression in Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica). Quails were subjected to feeding at 20%, 30% and 40% restriction levels or ad libitum for 2 weeks. All restricted groups exhibited reduced body mass, whereas reductions in the number and mass of eggs were observed only under more severe restrictions. Additionally, dietary restriction led to decreased expression of mTOR and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), whereas the ribosomal protein S6 kinase 1 (RPS6K1) and autophagy-related genes (ATG9A and ATG5) were upregulated. The pattern in which mTOR responded to restriction was similar to that for body mass. Regardless of the treatment, proportionally higher reproductive investment was associated with individual variation in mTOR expression. These findings reveal the connection between dietary intake and the expression of mTOR and related genes in this pathway.

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