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Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):891S-6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.001925. Epub 2011 Feb 16.

Sensing of energy and nutrients by AMP-activated protein kinase.

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College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, United Kingdom.


AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a cellular energy sensor that exists in almost all eukaryotes. Genetic studies in lower eukaryotes suggest that the ancestral role of AMPK was in response to starvation for a carbon source and that AMPK is involved in life-span extension in response to caloric restriction. In mammals, AMPK is activated by an increasing cellular AMP:ATP ratio (which signifies a decrease in energy) caused by metabolic stresses that interfere with ATP production (eg, hypoxia) or that accelerate ATP consumption (eg, muscle contraction). Because glucose deprivation can increase the AMP:ATP ratio, AMPK can also act as a glucose sensor. AMPK activation occurs by a dual mechanism that involves allosteric activation and phosphorylation by upstream kinases. Once activated, AMPK switches on catabolic pathways that generate ATP (eg, the uptake and oxidation of glucose and fatty acids and mitochondrial biogenesis) while switching off ATP-consuming, anabolic pathways (eg, the synthesis of lipids, glucose, glycogen, and proteins). In addition to the acute effects via direct phosphorylation of metabolic enzymes, AMPK has longer-term effects by regulating transcription. These features make AMPK an ideal drug target in the treatment of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The antidiabetic drug metformin (which is derived from an herbal remedy) works in part by activating AMPK, whereas many xenobiotics or "nutraceuticals," including resveratrol, quercetin, and berberine, are also AMPK activators. Most of these agents activate AMPK because they inhibit mitochondrial function.

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