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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2007 Jul;293(1):H457-66. Epub 2007 Mar 16.

Metformin and phenformin activate AMP-activated protein kinase in the heart by increasing cytosolic AMP concentration.

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  • 1NMR Laboratory for Physiological Chemistry, Divivion of Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 221 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) acts as a cellular energy sensor: it responds to an increase in AMP concentration ([AMP]) or the AMP-to-ATP ratio (AMP/ATP). Metformin and phenformin, which are biguanides, have been reported to increase AMPK activity without increasing AMP/ATP. This study tests the hypothesis that these biguanides increase AMPK activity in the heart by increasing cytosolic [AMP]. Groups of isolated rat hearts (n = 5-7 each) were perfused with Krebs-Henseleit buffer with or without 0.2 mM phenformin or 10 mM metformin, and (31)P-NMR-measured phosphocreatine, ATP, and intracellular pH were used to calculate cytosolic [AMP]. At various times, hearts were freeze-clamped and assayed for AMPK activity, phosphorylation of Thr(172) on AMPK-alpha, and phosphorylation of Ser(79) on acetyl-CoA carboxylase, an AMPK target. In hearts treated with phenformin for 18 min and then perfused for 20 min with Krebs-Henseleit buffer, [AMP] began to increase at 26 min and AMPK activity was elevated at 36 min. In hearts treated with metformin, [AMP] was increased at 50 min and AMPK activity, phosphorylated AMPK, and phosphorylated acetyl-CoA carboxylase were elevated at 61 min. In metformin-treated hearts, HPLC-measured total AMP content and total AMP/ATP did not increase. In summary, phenformin and metformin increase AMPK activity and phosphorylation in the isolated heart. The increase in AMPK activity was always preceded by and correlated with increased cytosolic [AMP]. Total AMP content and total AMP/ATP did not change. Cytosolic [AMP] reported metabolically active AMP, which triggered increased AMPK activity, but measures of total AMP did not.

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