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Biochem J. 2014 Apr 15;459(2):275-87. doi: 10.1042/BJ20131344.

Phosphorylation by Akt within the ST loop of AMPK-α1 down-regulates its activation in tumour cells.

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  • 1*Division of Cell Signalling & Immunology, College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 5EH, Scotland, U.K.


The insulin/IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)-activated protein kinase Akt (also known as protein kinase B) phosphorylates Ser487 in the 'ST loop' (serine/threonine-rich loop) within the C-terminal domain of AMPK-α1 (AMP-activated protein kinase-α1), leading to inhibition of phosphorylation by upstream kinases at the activating site, Thr172. Surprisingly, the equivalent site on AMPK-α2, Ser491, is not an Akt target and is modified instead by autophosphorylation. Stimulation of HEK (human embryonic kidney)-293 cells with IGF-1 caused reduced subsequent Thr172 phosphorylation and activation of AMPK-α1 in response to the activator A769662 and the Ca2+ ionophore A23187, effects we show to be dependent on Akt activation and Ser487 phosphorylation. Consistent with this, in three PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10)-null tumour cell lines (in which the lipid phosphatase PTEN that normally restrains the Akt pathway is absent and Akt is thus hyperactivated), AMPK was resistant to activation by A769662. However, full AMPK activation could be restored by pharmacological inhibition of Akt, or by re-expression of active PTEN. We also show that inhibition of Thr172 phosphorylation is due to interaction of the phosphorylated ST loop with basic side chains within the αC-helix of the kinase domain. Our findings reveal that a previously unrecognized effect of hyperactivation of Akt in tumour cells is to restrain activation of the LKB1 (liver kinase B1)-AMPK pathway, which would otherwise inhibit cell growth and proliferation.

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