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1.  Folliculin Regulates Ampk-Dependent Autophagy and Metabolic Stress Survival 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004273.
Dysregulation of AMPK signaling has been implicated in many human diseases, which emphasizes the importance of characterizing AMPK regulators. The tumor suppressor FLCN, responsible for the Birt-Hogg Dubé renal neoplasia syndrome (BHD), is an AMPK-binding partner but the genetic and functional links between FLCN and AMPK have not been established. Strikingly, the majority of naturally occurring FLCN mutations predisposing to BHD are predicted to produce truncated proteins unable to bind AMPK, pointing to the critical role of this interaction in the tumor suppression mechanism. Here, we demonstrate that FLCN is an evolutionarily conserved negative regulator of AMPK. Using Caenorhabditis elegans and mammalian cells, we show that loss of FLCN results in constitutive activation of AMPK which induces autophagy, inhibits apoptosis, improves cellular bioenergetics, and confers resistance to energy-depleting stresses including oxidative stress, heat, anoxia, and serum deprivation. We further show that AMPK activation conferred by FLCN loss is independent of the cellular energy state suggesting that FLCN controls the AMPK energy sensing ability. Together, our data suggest that FLCN is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of AMPK signaling that may act as a tumor suppressor by negatively regulating AMPK function.
Author Summary
The FLCN gene is responsible for the hereditary human tumor disease called Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome (BHD). Patients that inherit an inactivating mutation in the FLCN gene develop lung collapse as well as tumors in the kidney, colon, and skin. It is not clear yet what the exact function of this protein is in the cell or an organism. In this study, we used a simple model organism (the round worm C. elegans) to study the function of FLCN. We found that it is involved in the regulation of energy metabolism in the cell. FLCN normally binds and blocks the action of another protein (AMPK), which is involved in the maintenance of energy levels. When energy levels fall, AMPK is activated and drives a recycling pathway called autophagy, where cellular components are recycled producing energy. In the absence of FLCN in worms and mammalian cells, like in tumors of BHD patients, AMPK and autophagy are chronically activated leading to an increased energy level, which makes the cells/organism very resistant to many stresses that would normally kill them, which in the end could lead to progression of tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3998892  PMID: 24763318
2.  Differential effects of energy stress on AMPK phosphorylation and apoptosis in experimental brain tumor and normal brain 
Molecular Cancer  2008;7:37.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a known physiological cellular energy sensor and becomes phosphorylated at Thr-172 in response to changes in cellular ATP levels. Activated AMPK acts as either an inducer or suppressor of apoptosis depending on the severity of energy stress and the presence or absence of certain functional tumor suppressor genes.
Here we show that energy stress differentially affects AMPK phosphorylation and cell-death in brain tumor tissue and in tissue from contra-lateral normal brain. We compared TSC2 deficient CT-2A mouse astrocytoma cells with syngeneic normal astrocytes that were grown under identical condition in vitro. Energy stress induced by glucose withdrawal or addition of 2-deoxyglucose caused more ATP depletion, AMPK phosphorylation and apoptosis in CT-2A cells than in the normal astrocytes. Under normal energy conditions pharmacological stimulation of AMPK caused apoptosis in CT-2A cells but not in astrocytes. TSC2 siRNA treated astrocytes are hypersensitive to apoptosis induced by energy stress compared to control cells. AMPK phosphorylation and apoptosis were also greater in the CT-2A tumor tissue than in the normal brain tissue following implementation of dietary energy restriction. Inefficient mTOR and TSC2 signaling, downstream of AMPK, is responsible for CT-2A cell-death, while functional LKB1 may protect normal brain cells under energy stress.
Together these data demonstrates that AMPK phosphorylation induces apoptosis in mouse astrocytoma but may protect normal brain cells from apoptosis under similar energy stress condition. Therefore, using activator of AMPK along with glycolysis inhibitor could be a potential therapeutic approach for TSC2 deficient human malignant astrocytoma.
PMCID: PMC2397440  PMID: 18474106
3.  AMPK-dependent phosphorylation of ULK1 regulates ATG9 localization 
Autophagy  2012;8(8):1197-1214.
Autophagy is activated in response to a variety of cellular stresses including metabolic stress. While elegant genetic studies in yeast have identified the core autophagy machinery, the signaling pathways that regulate this process are less understood. AMPK is an energy sensing kinase and several studies have suggested that AMPK is required for autophagy. The biochemical connections between AMPK and autophagy, however, have not been elucidated. In this report, we identify a biochemical connection between a critical regulator of autophagy, ULK1, and the energy sensing kinase, AMPK. ULK1 forms a complex with AMPK, and AMPK activation results in ULK1 phosphorylation. Moreover, we demonstrate that the immediate effect of AMPK-dependent phosphorylation of ULK1 results in enhanced binding of the adaptor protein YWHAZ/14-3-3ζ; and this binding alters ULK1 phosphorylation in vitro. Finally, we provide evidence that both AMPK and ULK1 regulate localization of a critical component of the phagophore, ATG9, and that some of the AMPK phosphorylation sites on ULK1 are important for regulating ATG9 localization. Taken together these data identify an ULK1-AMPK signaling cassette involved in regulation of the autophagy machinery.
PMCID: PMC3679237  PMID: 22932492
14-3-3 proteins; AMP-activated protein kinase; Atg9; autophagy; energy metabolism; metabolic stress; phosphorylation; Unc-51-like kinase 1
4.  HCMV Targets the Metabolic Stress Response through Activation of AMPK Whose Activity Is Important for Viral Replication 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(1):e1002502.
Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection induces several metabolic activities that have been found to be important for viral replication. The cellular AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a metabolic stress response kinase that regulates both energy-producing catabolic processes and energy-consuming anabolic processes. Here we explore the role AMPK plays in generating an environment conducive to HCMV replication. We find that HCMV infection induces AMPK activity, resulting in the phosphorylation and increased abundance of several targets downstream of activated AMPK. Pharmacological and RNA-based inhibition of AMPK blocked the glycolytic activation induced by HCMV-infection, but had little impact on the glycolytic pathway of uninfected cells. Furthermore, inhibition of AMPK severely attenuated HCMV replication suggesting that AMPK is an important cellular factor for HCMV replication. Inhibition of AMPK attenuated early and late gene expression as well as viral DNA synthesis, but had no detectable impact on immediate-early gene expression, suggesting that AMPK activity is important at the immediate early to early transition of viral gene expression. Lastly, we find that inhibition of the Ca2+-calmodulin-dependent kinase kinase (CaMKK), a kinase known to activate AMPK, blocks HCMV-mediated AMPK activation. The combined data suggest a model in which HCMV activates AMPK through CaMKK, and depends on their activation for high titer replication, likely through induction of a metabolic environment conducive to viral replication.
Author Summary
Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a ubiquitous human pathogen that is a major cause of birth defects. HCMV can also cause severe disease in immunocompromised individuals including transplant recipients, leukemia patients and those infected with HIV. It is clear that upon infection, HCMV takes control of numerous cellular processes that are important for the virus to generate the next round of infectious virions. We have previously found that upon infection, HCMV reprograms the metabolic activity of the host-cell. Here, we find that this metabolic reprogramming largely depends on the viral activation of a cellular protein called the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK is a central regulator of cellular energy production that is typically only activated when cellular energy stores are very low. Our results indicate that HCMV-mediated activation of AMPK is necessary to flip the metabolic switch thereby driving host-cell metabolic activation and viral replication. As inhibition of AMPK blocked viral replication, and had little impact on uninfected host-cell metabolism, targeting AMPK could have therapeutic potential to treat HCMV-associated disease.
PMCID: PMC3266935  PMID: 22291597
5.  Proline dehydrogenase (oxidase), a mitochondrial tumor suppressor, and autophagy under the hypoxia microenvironment 
Autophagy  2012;8(9):1407-1409.
Proline dehydrogenase (oxidase, PRODH/POX), the first enzyme in the pathway of proline catabolism, has been identified as a mitochondrial, metabolic tumor suppressor, which is downregulated in a variety of human tumors. However, our recent findings show that PRODH/POX is upregulated by hypoxia in vitro and in vivo. The combination of low glucose and hypoxia produces additive effects on PRODH/POX expression. Both hypoxia and glucose depletion enhance PRODH/POX expression through AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation to promote tumor cell survival. Nevertheless, the mechanisms underlying PRODH/POX prosurvival functions are different for hypoxia and low-glucose conditions. Glucose depletion with or without hypoxia elevates PRODH/POX and proline utilization to supply ATP for cellular energy needs. Interestingly, under hypoxia PRODH/POX induces protective autophagy by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS). AMPK is the main initiator of stress-triggered autophagy. Thus, PRODH/POX acts as a downstream effector of AMPK in the activation of autophagy under hypoxia. This regulation was confirmed to be independent of the mechanistic target of rapamycin (MTOR) pathway, a major downstream target of AMPK signaling.
PMCID: PMC3442893  PMID: 22885468
apoptosis; autophagy; hypoxia; metabolic stress; proline dehydrogenase/oxidase
6.  AMPK as a Potential Anticancer Target – Friend or Foe? 
Current pharmaceutical design  2014;20(15):2607-2618.
Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a key player in maintaining energy homeostasis in response to metabolic stress. Beyond diabetes and metabolic syndrome, there is a growing interest in the therapeutic exploitation of the AMPK pathway in cancer treatment in light of its unique ability to regulate cancer cell proliferation through the reprogramming of cell metabolism. Although many studies support the tumor-suppressive role of AMPK, emerging evidence suggests that the metabolic checkpoint function of AMPK might be overridden by stress or oncogenic signals so that tumor cells use AMPK activation as a survival strategy to gain growth advantage. These findings underscore the complexity in the cellular function of AMPK in maintaining energy homeostasis under physiological versus pathological conditions. Thus, this review aims to provide an overview of recent findings on the functional interplay of AMPK with different cell metabolic and signaling effectors, particularly histone deacetylases, in mediating downstream tumor suppressive or promoting mechanisms in different cell systems. Although AMPK activation inhibits tumor growth by targeting multiple signaling pathways relevant to tumorigenesis, under certain cellular contexts or certain stages of tumor development, AMPK might act as a protective response to metabolic stresses, such as nutrient deprivation, low oxygen, and low pH, or as a downstream effectors of oncogenic proteins, including androgen receptor, hypoxia-inducible factor-1α, c-Src, and MYC. Thus, investigations to define at which stage(s) of tumorigenesis and cancer progression or for which genetic aberrations AMPK inhibition might represent a more relevant strategy than AMPK activation for cancer treatment are clearly warranted.
PMCID: PMC4264967  PMID: 23859619
AMPK; metabolic homeostasis; cancer therapy; LKB1; mTORC1; HDAC; Foxo3a; HIF-1α
7.  Loss of a Neural AMP-Activated Kinase Mimics the Effects of Elevated Serotonin on Fat, Movement, and Hormonal Secretions 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004394.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an evolutionarily conserved master regulator of metabolism and a therapeutic target in type 2 diabetes. As an energy sensor, AMPK activity is responsive to both metabolic inputs, for instance the ratio of AMP to ATP, and numerous hormonal cues. As in mammals, each of two genes, aak-1 and aak-2, encode for the catalytic subunit of AMPK in C. elegans. Here we show that in C. elegans loss of aak-2 mimics the effects of elevated serotonin signaling on fat reduction, slowed movement, and promoting exit from dauer arrest. Reconstitution of aak-2 in only the nervous system restored wild type fat levels and movement rate to aak-2 mutants and reconstitution in only the ASI neurons was sufficient to significantly restore dauer maintenance to the mutant animals. As in elevated serotonin signaling, inactivation of AAK-2 in the ASI neurons caused enhanced secretion of dense core vesicles from these neurons. The ASI neurons are the site of production of the DAF-7 TGF-β ligand and the DAF-28 insulin, both of which are secreted by dense core vesicles and play critical roles in whether animals stay in dauer or undergo reproductive development. These findings show that elevated levels of serotonin promote enhanced secretions of systemic regulators of pro-growth and differentiation pathways through inactivation of AAK-2. As such, AMPK is not only a recipient of hormonal signals but can also be an upstream regulator. Our data suggest that some of the physiological phenotypes previously attributed to peripheral AAK-2 activity on metabolic targets may instead be due to the role of this kinase in neural serotonin signaling.
Author Summary
While it is well appreciated that food availability has profound effects on behavior, physiology, and metabolism, the molecular systems that link these complex processes together still remain poorly understood. An ancient cellular sensor of energy is AMP-activated protein kinase, AMPK. Here we show that in the genetically tractable C. elegans, loss of AMPK in the nervous system mimics many of the outcomes also seen upon elevated serotonin signaling, a neural indicator of food availability. We show that similar to elevated serotonin signaling, loss of neural AMPK causes reduced movement while enhancing fat metabolism and secretions of neuroendocrine hormones known to be systemic regulators of energy balance, development and aging. While AMPK is generally considered a mediator of hormonal signaling, our findings indicate that it also regulates their release. Our findings suggest that some previous results attributed to roles of AMPK in the regulation of peripheral metabolism may in fact be due to the roles of this kinase complex in the nervous system as a mediator of serotonin signaling.
PMCID: PMC4055570  PMID: 24921650
8.  Differential regulation of distinct Vps34 complexes by AMPK in nutrient stress and autophagy 
Cell  2013;152(1-2):290-303.
Autophagy is a stress response protecting cells from unfavorable conditions, such as nutrient starvation. The class III phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase, Vps34, forms multiple complexes and regulates both intracellular vesicle trafficking and autophagy induction. Here, we show that AMPK plays a key role in regulating different Vps34 complexes. AMPK inhibits the non-autophagy Vps34 complex by phosphorylating T163/S165 in Vps34, therefore suppresses overall PI(3)P production and protects cells from starvation. In parallel, AMPK activates the pro-autophagy Vps34 complex by phosphorylating S91/S94 in Beclin1 to induce autophagy. Atg14L, an autophagy essential gene present only in pro-autophagy Vps 34 complex, inhibits Vps34 phosphorylation but increases Beclin1 phosphorylation by AMPK. As such, Atg14L dictates the differential regulation (either inhibition or activation) of different Vps34 complexes in response to glucose starvation. Our study reveals an intricate molecular regulation of Vps34 complexes by AMPK in nutrient stress response and autophagy.
PMCID: PMC3587159  PMID: 23332761
9.  Tissue-type Plasminogen Activator Mediates Neuroglial Coupling in the Central Nervous System 
Neuroscience  2013;257:41-48.
The interaction between neurons, astrocytes and endothelial cells plays a central role coupling energy supply with changes in neuronal activity. For a long time it was believed that glucose was the only source of energy for neurons. However, a growing body of experimental evidence indicates that lactic acid, generated by aerobic glycolysis in perivascular astrocytes, is also a source of energy for neuronal activity, particularly when the supply of glucose from the intravascular space is interrupted. Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an evolutionary conserved kinase that couples cellular activity with energy consumption via induction of the uptake of glucose and activation of the glycolytic pathway. The uptake of glucose by the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is mediated by the transporter GLUT1, which is abundantly expressed in endothelial cells and astrocytic end-feet processes. Tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) is a serine proteinase that is found in endothelial cells, astrocytes and neurons. Genetic overexpression of neuronal tPA or treatment with recombinant tPA (rtPA) protects neurons from the deleterious effects of metabolic stress or excitotoxicity, via a mechanism independent of tPA’s ability to cleave plasminogen into plasmin. The work presented here shows that exposure to metabolic stress induces the rapid release of tPA from neurons but not from astrocytes. This tPA induces AMPK activation, membrane recruitment of GLUT1, and GLUT1-mediated glucose uptake in astrocytes and endothelial cells. Our data indicate that this is followed by the synthesis and release of lactic acid from astrocytes, and that the uptake of this lactic acid via the monocarboxylate transporter-2 (MCT-2) promotes survival in neurons exposed to metabolic stress.
PMCID: PMC3889071  PMID: 24200922
Tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA); Glucose metabolism; Neuroprotection; Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK); Monocarboxylate transporter-2 (MCT-2)
10.  Epoxyeicosatrienoic acids protect cardiac cells during starvation by modulating an autophagic response 
Cell Death & Disease  2013;4(10):e885-.
Epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs) are cytochrome P450 epoxygenase metabolites of arachidonic acid involved in regulating pathways promoting cellular protection. We have previously shown that EETs trigger a protective response limiting mitochondrial dysfunction and reducing cellular death. Considering it is unknown how EETs regulate cell death processes, the major focus of the current study was to investigate their role in the autophagic response of HL-1 cells and neonatal cardiomyocytes (NCMs) during starvation. We employed a dual-acting synthetic analog UA-8 (13-(3-propylureido)tridec-8-enoic acid), possessing both EET-mimetic and soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) inhibitory properties, or 14,15-EET as model EET molecules. We demonstrated that EETs significantly improved viability and recovery of starved cardiac cells, whereas they lowered cellular stress responses such as caspase-3 and proteasome activities. Furthermore, treatment with EETs resulted in preservation of mitochondrial functional activity in starved cells. The protective effects of EETs were abolished by autophagy-related gene 7 (Atg7) short hairpin RNA (shRNA) or pharmacological inhibition of autophagy. Mechanistic evidence demonstrated that sarcolemmal ATP-sensitive potassium channels (pmKATP) and enhanced activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) played a crucial role in the EET-mediated effect. Our data suggest that the protective effects of EETs involve regulating the autophagic response, which results in a healthier pool of mitochondria in the starved cardiac cells, thereby representing a novel mechanism of promoting survival of cardiac cells. Thus, we provide new evidence highlighting a central role of the autophagic response in linking EETs with promoting cell survival during deep metabolic stress such as starvation.
PMCID: PMC3920965  PMID: 24157879
autophagy; epoxyeicosatrienoic acid; cardiac cells
11.  Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) protects hepatocytes against lipotoxicity via inducing autophagy independently of Nrf2 activation 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2013;1841(1):10.1016/j.bbalip.2013.09.004.
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) induce hepatocyte cell death, wherein oxidative stress is mechanistically involved. Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) is a master transcriptional regulator of cellular antioxidant defense enzymes. Therefore, Nrf2 activation is regarded as an effective strategy against oxidative stress-triggered cellular damage. In this study, tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), a widely used Nrf2 activator, was initially employed to investigate the potential protective role of Nrf2 activation in SFAs-induced hepatoxicity. As expected, SFAs-induced hepatocyte cell death was prevented by tBHQ in both AML-12 mouse hepatocytes and HepG2 human hepatoma cells. However, the protective effect of tBHQ is Nrf2-independent, because the siRNA-mediated Nrf2 silencing did not abrogate tBHQ-conferred protection. Alternatively, our results revealed that autophagy activation was critically involved in the protective effect of tBHQ on lipotoxicity. tBHQ induced autophagy activation and autophagy inhibitors abolished tBHQ’s protection. The induction of autophagy by tBHQ exposure was demonstrated by the increased accumulation of LC3 puncta, LC3-II conversion, and autophagic flux (LC3-II conversion in the presence of proteolysis inhibitors). Subsequent mechanistic investigation discovered that tBHQ exposure activated AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and siRNA-mediated AMPK gene silencing abolished tBHQ-induced autophagy activation, indicating that AMPK is critically involved in tBHQ-triggered autophagy induction. Furthermore, our study provided evidence that tBHQ-induced autophagy activation is required for its Nrf2-activating property. Collectively, our data uncover a novel mechanism for tBHQ in protecting hepatocytes against SFAs-induced lipotoxicity. tBHQ-triggered autophagy induction contributes not only to its hepatoprotective effect, but also to its Nrf2-activating property.
PMCID: PMC3884638  PMID: 24055888
Tert-Butylhydroquinone; autophagy; SFAs; lipotoxicity; AMPK; Nrf2
12.  Regulation of the energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase by antigen receptor and Ca2+ in T lymphocytes 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2006;203(7):1665-1670.
The adenosine monophosphate (AMP)–activated protein kinase (AMPK) has a crucial role in maintaining cellular energy homeostasis. This study shows that human and mouse T lymphocytes express AMPKα1 and that this is rapidly activated in response to triggering of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR). TCR stimulation of AMPK was dependent on the adaptors LAT and SLP76 and could be mimicked by the elevation of intracellular Ca2+ with Ca2+ ionophores or thapsigargin. AMPK activation was also induced by energy stress and depletion of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP). However, TCR and Ca2+ stimulation of AMPK required the activity of Ca2+–calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinases (CaMKKs), whereas AMPK activation induced by increased AMP/ATP ratios did not. These experiments reveal two distinct pathways for the regulation of AMPK in T lymphocytes. The role of AMPK is to promote ATP conservation and production. The rapid activation of AMPK in response to Ca2+ signaling in T lymphocytes thus reveals that TCR triggering is linked to an evolutionally conserved serine kinase that regulates energy metabolism. Moreover, AMPK does not just react to cellular energy depletion but also anticipates it.
PMCID: PMC2118355  PMID: 16818670
13.  Assessing Metabolic Stress and Autophagy Status in Epithelial Tumors 
Methods in enzymology  2009;453:53-81.
Autophagy is a survival mechanism activated in response to metabolic stress. In normal tissues autophagy plays a major role in energy homeostasis through catabolic self-digestion of damaged proteins and organelles. Contrary to its survival function, autophagy defects are implicated in tumorigenesis suggesting that autophagy is a tumor suppression mechanism. Although the exact mechanism of this tumor suppressor function is not known, it likely involves mitigation of cellular damage leading to chromosomal instability. The complex role of functional autophagy in tumors calls for model systems that allow the assessment of autophagy status, stress management and the impact on oncogenesis both in vitro as well as in vivo. We developed model systems that involve generation of genetically defined, isogenic and immortal epithelial cells from different tissue types that are applicable to both wild-type and mutant mice. This permits the study of tissue- as well as gene-specific tumor promoting functions. We successfully employed this strategy to generate isogenic, immortal epithelial cell lines from wild-type and mutant mice deficient in essential autophagy genes such as beclin 1 (beclin 1+/-) and atg5 (atg 5-/-). As these cell lines are amenable to further genetic manipulation, they allowed us to generate cell lines with apoptosis defects and stable expression of the autophagy marker EGFP-LC3 that facilitate in vitro and in vivo assessment of stress-mediated autophagy induction. We applied this model system to directly monitor autophagy in cells and 3D-morphogenesis in vitro as well as in tumor allografts in vivo. Using this model system we demonstrated that autophagy is a survival response in solid tumors that co-localizes with hypoxic regions, allowing tolerance to metabolic stress. Furthermore, our studies have established that autophagy also protects tumor cells from genome damage and limits cell death and inflammation as possible means to tumor suppression. Additionally these cell lines provide an efficient way to perform biochemical analyses, and high throughput screening for modulators of autophagy for potential use in cancer therapy and prevention.
PMCID: PMC2857509  PMID: 19216902
14.  Proteasomes, Sir2, and Hxk2 Form an Interconnected Aging Network That Impinges on the AMPK/Snf1-Regulated Transcriptional Repressor Mig1 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(1):e1004968.
Elevated proteasome activity extends lifespan in model organisms such as yeast, worms and flies. This pro-longevity effect might be mediated by improved protein homeostasis, as this protease is an integral module of the protein homeostasis network. Proteasomes also regulate cellular processes through temporal and spatial degradation of signaling pathway components. Here we demonstrate that the regulatory function of the proteasome plays an essential role in aging cells and that the beneficial impact of elevated proteasome capacity on lifespan partially originates from deregulation of the AMPK signaling pathway. Proteasome-mediated lifespan extension activity was carbon-source dependent and cells with enhancement proteasome function exhibited increased respiratory activity and oxidative stress response. These findings suggested that the pro-aging impact of proteasome upregulation might be related to changes in the metabolic state through a premature induction of respiration. Deletion of yeast AMPK, SNF1, or its activator SNF4 abrogated proteasome-mediated lifespan extension, supporting this hypothesis as the AMPK pathway regulates metabolism. We found that the premature induction of respiration in cells with increased proteasome activity originates from enhanced turnover of Mig1, an AMPK/Snf1 regulated transcriptional repressor that prevents the induction of genes required for respiration. Increasing proteasome activity also resulted in partial relocation of Mig1 from the nucleus to the mitochondria. Collectively, the results argue for a model in which elevated proteasome activity leads to the uncoupling of Snf1-mediated Mig1 regulation, resulting in a premature activation of respiration and thus the induction of a mitohormetic response, beneficial to lifespan. In addition, we observed incorrect Mig1 localization in two other long-lived yeast aging models: cells that overexpress SIR2 or deleted for the Mig1-regulator HXK2. Finally, compromised proteasome function blocks lifespan extension in both strains. Thus, our findings suggest that proteasomes, Sir2, Snf1 and Hxk2 form an interconnected aging network that controls metabolism through coordinated regulation of Mig1.
Author Summary
Advanced cellular age is associated with decreased efficiency of the proteostasis network. The proteasome, a protease in the cytoplasm and nuclei of eukaryotic cells, is an important component of this network. Recent studies demonstrate that increased proteasome capacity has a positive impact on longevity. The underlying mechanisms, however, have not been fully identified. Here we report that proteasomes are involved in regulating the AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) pathway and thus participate in correct metabolic adaptation. We find that Mig1, a transcriptional repressor downstream of yeast AMPK, Snf1, is a proteasome target and a negative regulator of lifespan. Increased proteasome activity results in enhanced turnover and incorrect localization of Mig1. The reduced Mig1 levels result in the induction of respiration and upregulation of the oxidative stress response. Premature Mig1 inactivation is also observed in two additional long-lived strains that overexpress SIR2 or are deleted for HXK2 and lifespan extension in both strains requires correct proteasome function. Our results uncover an interconnected network comprised of the proteasome, Sir2 and AMPK/Hxk2 signaling that impacts longevity through regulation of Mig1 and modulates respiratory metabolism. Mechanistic information on the cross-communication between these pathways is expected to facilitate the identification of novel pro-aging interventions.
PMCID: PMC4309596  PMID: 25629410
15.  AMP-activated Protein Kinase Regulates E3 Ligases in Rodent Heart 
Circulation Research  2011;109(10):1153-1161.
The degradation of proteins by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) is required for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis in the heart. An important regulator of metabolic homeostasis is AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK activation inhibits protein synthesis and activates autophagy, but whether AMPK plays a role in regulating protein breakdown through the UPS in the heart is not known.
To determine whether AMPK enhances UPS-mediated protein degradation by directly regulating the ubiquitin ligases Atrogin-1 and MuRF1 in the heart.
Methods and Results
Nutrient deprivation, pharmacologic or genetic activation of AMPK increased mRNA expression and protein levels of Atrogin-1 and MuRF1, and consequently enhanced protein degradation in neonatal cardiomyocytes. Inhibition of AMPK abrogated these effects. Using gene reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays we found that AMPK regulates MuRF1 expression by acting through the transcription factor MEF2. We further validated these findings in vivo using MEF2-LacZ reporter mice. Furthermore, we demonstrated in adult cardiomoycytes that MuRF1 is necessary for AMPK-mediated proteolysis through the UPS in the heart. Consequently, MuRF1 knockout mice were protected from severe cardiac dysfunction during fasting.
AMPK regulates the transcription of Atrogin-1 and MuRF1 and enhances UPS-mediated protein degradation in heart. Specifically, AMPK regulates MuRF1 through the transcription factor MEF2. The absence of MuRF1 in the heart preserves cardiac function during fasting. The results strengthen the hypothesis that AMPK serves as a modulator of intracellular protein degradation in the heart.
PMCID: PMC3254015  PMID: 21921267
AMPK; protein degradation; ubiquitin ligases; transcriptional regulation
16.  Autophagy is Essential to Suppress Cell Stress and to Allow BCR-Abl-Mediated Leukemogenesis 
Oncogene  2010;30(16):1855-1867.
Hematopoietic cells normally require cell extrinsic signals to maintain metabolism and survival. In contrast, cancer cells can express constitutively active oncogenic kinases such as BCR-Abl that promote these processes independent of extrinsic growth factors. When cells receive insufficient growth signals or when oncogenic kinases are inhibited, glucose metabolism decreases and the self-digestive process of autophagy is elevated to degrade bulk cytoplasm and organelles. While autophagy has been proposed to provide a cell-intrinsic nutrient supply for mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and to maintain cellular homeostasis through degradation of damaged organelles or protein aggregates, its acute role in growth factor deprivation or inhibition of oncogenic kinases remains poorly understood. We therefore developed a growth factor-dependent hematopoietic cell culture model in which autophagy can be acutely disrupted through conditional Cre-mediated excision of the autophagy-essential gene Atg3. Treated cells rapidly lost their ability to perform autophagy and underwent cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. While Atg3 was essential for optimal upregulation of mitochondrial oxidative pathways in growth factor withdrawal, this metabolic contribution of autophagy did not appear critical for cell survival, as provision of exogenous pyruvate or lipids could not completely rescue Atg3-deficiency. Instead, autophagy suppressed a stress response that otherwise led to p53 phosphorylation and upregulation of p21 and the pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family protein Puma. Importantly, BCR-Abl-expressing cells had low basal levels of autophagy but were highly dependent on this process, and rapidly underwent apoptosis upon disruption of autophagy through Atg3 deletion or treatment with chemical autophagy inhibitors. This dependence on autophagy extended in vivo, as Atg3 deletion also prevented BCR-Abl-mediated leukemogenesis in a cell transfer model. Together these data demonstrate a critical role for autophagy to mitigate cell stress, and that cells expressing the oncogenic kinase BCR-Abl appear particularly dependent on autophagy for cell survival and leukemogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3081401  PMID: 21151168
Autophagy; BCR-Abl; Puma; apoptosis; metabolism; p53
17.  Calcineurin suppresses AMPK-dependent cytoprotective autophagy in cardiomyocytes under oxidative stress 
He, H | Liu, X | Lv, L | Liang, H | Leng, B | Zhao, D | Zhang, Y | Du, Z | Chen, X | Li, S | Lu, Y | Shan, H
Cell Death & Disease  2014;5(1):e997-.
Calcineurin signalling plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of many cardiovascular diseases. Calcineurin has been proven to affect a series of signalling pathways and to exert a proapoptotic effect in cardiomyocytes. However, whether it is able to regulate autophagy remains largely unknown. Here, we report that prolonged oxidative stress-induced activation of calcineurin contributes to the attenuation of adaptive AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signalling and inhibits autophagy in cardiomyocytes. Primary cardiomyocytes exhibited rapid formation of autophagosomes, microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3) expression and phosphorylation of AMPK in response to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) treatment. However, prolonged (12 h) H2O2 treatment attenuated these effects and was accompanied by a significant increase in calcineurin activity and apoptosis. Inhibition of calcineurin by FK506 restored AMPK function and LC3 expression, and decreased the extent of apoptosis caused by prolonged oxidative stress. In contrast, overexpression of the constitutively active form of calcineurin markedly attenuated the increase in LC3 induced by short-term (3 h) H2O2 treatment and sensitised cells to apoptosis. In addition, FK506 failed to induce autophagy and alleviate apoptosis in cardiomyocytes expressing a kinase-dead K45R AMPK mutant. Furthermore, inhibition of autophagy by 3-methylanine (3-MA) or by knockdown of the essential autophagy-related gene ATG7 abrogated the protective effect of FK506. These findings suggest a novel role of calcineurin in suppressing adaptive autophagy during oxidative stress by downregulating the AMPK signalling pathway. The results also provide insight into how altered calcineurin and autophagic signalling is integrated to control cell survival during oxidative stress and may guide strategies to prevent cardiac oxidative damage.
PMCID: PMC4040710  PMID: 24434520
oxidative stress; cardiomyocyte; autophagy; calcineurin; AMPK
18.  Inhibition of autophagy promotes CYP2E1-dependent toxicity in HepG2 cells via elevated oxidative stress, mitochondria dysfunction and activation of p38 and JNK MAPK☆ 
Redox Biology  2013;1(1):552-565.
Autophagy has been shown to be protective against drug and alcohol-induced liver injury. CYP2E1 plays a role in the toxicity of ethanol, carcinogens and certain drugs. Inhibition of autophagy increased ethanol-toxicity and accumulation of fat in wild type and CYP2E1 knockin mice but not in CYP2E1 knockout mice as well as in HepG2 cells expressing CYP2E1 (E47 cells) but not HepG2 cells lacking CYP2E1 (C34 cells). The goal of the current study was to evaluate whether modulation of autophagy can affect CYP2E1-dependent cytotoxicity in the E47 cells. The agents used to promote CYP2E1 –dependent toxicity were a polyunsaturated fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA), buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), which depletes GSH, and CCl4, which is metabolized to the CCl3 radical. These three agents produced a decrease in E47 cell viability which was enhanced upon inhibition of autophagy by 3-methyladenine (3-MA) or Atg 7 siRNA. Toxicity was lowered by rapamycin which increased autophagy and was much lower to the C34 cells which do not express CYP2E1. Toxicity was mainly necrotic and was associated with an increase in reactive oxygen production and oxidative stress; 3-MA increased while rapamycin blunted the oxidative stress. The enhanced toxicity and ROS formation produced when autophagy was inhibited was prevented by the antioxidant N-Acetyl cysteine. AA, BSO and CCl4 produced mitochondrial dysfunction, lowered cellular ATP levels and elevated mitochondrial production of ROS. This mitochondrial dysfunction was enhanced by inhibition of autophagy with 3-MA but decreased when autophagy was increased by rapamycin. The mitogen activated protein kinases p38 MAPK and JNK were activated by AA especially when autophagy was inhibited and chemical inhibitors of p38 MAPK and JNK lowered the elevated toxicity of AA produced by 3-MA. These results show that autophagy was protective against the toxicity produced by several agents known to be activated by CYP2E1. Since CYP2E1 plays an important role in the toxicity of ethanol, drugs and carcinogens and is activated under various pathophysiological conditions such as diabetes, NASH and obesity, attempts to stimulate autophagy may be beneficial in preventing/lowering CYP2E1/ethanol liver injury.
•Inhibition of autophagy in HepG2 E47 cells which express CYP2E1 promotes AA, BSO and CCl4 toxicity.•Decreased autophagy in E47 cells increased reactive oxygen production and oxidative stress and potentiated mitochondrial dysfunction.•The inhibition of autophagy enhanced activation of p38 MAPK and JNK by AA and this activation contributed to the toxicity.•Autophagy is protective against the toxicity produced by agents known to be activated by CYP2E1.
PMCID: PMC3836279  PMID: 24273738
CYP2E1, cytochrome P4502E1, E47 cells, HepG2 cells which express CYP2E1; C34 cells, HepG2 cells which do not express CYP2E1; AA, arachidonic acid; BSO, L-buthionine sulfoximine; CCl4, carbon tetrachloride; 3-MA, 3-methyadenine; Rap, rapamycin; NAC, N-acetyl-cysteine; MTT, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium-bromide; ROS, reactive oxygen species; DCFDA, 2′-7′-dichlorofluorescin-diacetate; SOD, superoxide dismutase; GSH, reduced glutathione; TBARs, thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances; Cox IV, cytochrome oxidase subunit 4; CYP2E1; Autophagy; P38 MAPK; JNK; Mitochondria dysfunction; ROS; Cytotoxicity
Cells, tissues, organs  2008;189(1-4):88-92.
The overall goal of the investigation was to examine autophagy in the growth plate and to ascertain how this process was regulated. Herein, we show that while proliferating and terminally differentiated chondrocytes display low levels of LC-3 fluorescence, cells in the post-mitotic maturing zone strongly express particulate LC3 fluorescence. This robust immunohistochemical response of the maturing chondrocyte provides directl evidence that autophagy is a new and transient stage in the chondrocyte maturation pathway. We found that induction of autophagy was regulated by mTOR, a second sensor of cellular metabolism. When mTOR was inhibited, there was extensive reorganization of LC3, indicating that the kinase regulated development of the autophagic state. To determine if AMP kinase was required for chondrocyte autophagy, we suppressed AMPK expression in N1511 cells using siRNA technology. When these cells were serum-starved, a condition that triggers autophagy, we failed to observe a loss of organization of LC3. In other words, chondrocytes failed to induce autophagy. This result confirmed that AMPK was required for the induction of the autophagic response. Based on the two studies described above, and the observation that HIF-1 is required for the induction of autophagy, we put forward the hypothesis that the activity of AMPK and mTOR is regulated by HIF-1. HIF-1-dependent glycolytic activity would elevate AMP levels resulting in AMP kinase activation and suppression of mTOR, activities that lead to increased autophagy. Once autophagy is activated, the post-mitotic chondrocytes would be expected to remain viable in their unique microenvironment, and complete their life cycle. Thus, these two proteins serve to directly regulate the induction of the autophagic response. Once autophagy is activated, the post-mitotic chondrocytes would be expected to remain viable in their unique microenvironment, and complete their life cycle.
PMCID: PMC2677069  PMID: 18703865
growth plate; chondrocytes; autophagy; AMP kinase; mTOR
20.  Targeting autophagy overcomes Enzalutamide resistance in castration-resistant prostate cancer cells and improves therapeutic response in a xenograft model 
Oncogene  2014;33(36):4521-4530.
Macro-autophagy is associated with drug resistance in various cancers and can function as an adaptive response to maintain cell survival under metabolic stresses, including androgen deprivation. Androgen deprivation or treatment with androgen receptor (AR) signaling inhibitor (ARSI), Enzalutamide (MDV-3100, ENZA) or bicalutamide induced autophagy in androgen-dependent and in castration-resistant CaP (castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC)) cell lines. The autophagic cascade triggered by AR blockage, correlated with the increased light chain 3-II/I ratio and ATG-5 expression. Autophagy was observed in a subpopulation of C4-2B cells that developed insensitivity to ENZA after sustained exposure in culture. Using flow cytometry and clonogenic assays, we showed that inhibiting autophagy with clomipramine (CMI), chloroquine or metformin increased apoptosis and significantly impaired cell viability. This autophagic process was mediated by AMP-dependent protein kinase (AMPK) activation and the suppression of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) through Raptor phosphorylation (Serine 792). Furthermore, small interfering RNA targeting AMPK significantly inhibited autophagy and promoted cell death in CaP cells acutely or chronically exposed to ENZA or androgen deprivation, suggesting that autophagy is an important survival mechanism in CRPC. Lastly, in vivo studies with mice orthotopically implanted with ENZA-resistant cells demonstrated that the combination of ENZA and autophagy modulators, CMI or metformin significantly reduced tumor growth when compared with control groups (P<0.005). In conclusion, autophagy is as an important mechanism of resistance to ARSI in CRPC. Antiandrogen-induced autophagy is mediated through the activation of AMPK pathway and the suppression of mTOR pathway. Blocking autophagy pharmacologically or genetically significantly impairs prostate cancer cell survival in vitro and in vivo, implying the therapeutics potential of autophagy inhibitors in the antiandrogen-resistance setting.
PMCID: PMC4155805  PMID: 24662833
21.  Regulation of autophagy during ECM detachment is linked to a selective inhibition of mTORC1 by PERK 
Oncogene  2012;32(41):4932-4940.
Adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) is critical for epithelial tissue homeostasis and function. ECM detachment induces metabolic stress and programmed cell death via anoikis. ECM-detached mammary epithelial cells are able to rapidly activate autophagy allowing for survival and an opportunity for re-attachment. However, the mechanisms controlling detachment-induced autophagy remain unclear. Here we uncover that the kinase PERK rapidly promotes autophagy in ECM-detached cells by activating AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), resulting in downstream inhibition of mTORC1-p70S6K signaling. LKB1 and TSC2, but not TSC1, are required for PERK-mediated inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycinin MCF10A cells and mouse embryo fibroblast cells. Importantly, this pathway shows fast kinetics, is transcription-independent and is exclusively activated during ECM detachment, but not by canonical endoplasmic reticulum stressors. Moreover, enforced PERK or AMPK activation upregulates autophagy and causes luminal filling during acinar morphogenesis by perpetuating a population of surviving autophagic luminal cells that resist anoikis. Hence, we identify a novel pathway in which suspension-activated PERK promotes the activation of LKB1, AMPK and TSC2, leading to the rapid induction of detachment-induced autophagy. We propose that increased autophagy, secondary to persistent PERK and LKB1-AMPK signaling, can robustly protect cells from anoikis and promote luminal filling during early carcinoma progression.
PMCID: PMC3600386  PMID: 23160380
anoikis; breast cancer; unfolded protein response
22.  Tumor Suppression and Promotion by Autophagy 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:603980.
Autophagy is a highly regulated catabolic process that involves lysosomal degradation of proteins and organelles, mostly mitochondria, for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis and reduction of metabolic stress. Problems in the execution of this process are linked to different pathological conditions, such as neurodegeneration, aging, and cancer. Many of the proteins that regulate autophagy are either oncogenes or tumor suppressor proteins. Specifically, tumor suppressor genes that negatively regulate mTOR, such as PTEN, AMPK, LKB1, and TSC1/2 stimulate autophagy while, conversely, oncogenes that activate mTOR, such as class I PI3K, Ras, Rheb, and AKT, inhibit autophagy, suggesting that autophagy is a tumor suppressor mechanism. Consistent with this hypothesis, the inhibition of autophagy promotes oxidative stress, genomic instability, and tumorigenesis. Nevertheless, autophagy also functions as a cytoprotective mechanism under stress conditions, including hypoxia and nutrient starvation, that promotes tumor growth and resistance to chemotherapy in established tumors. Here, in this brief review, we will focus the discussion on this ambiguous role of autophagy in the development and progression of cancer.
PMCID: PMC4189854  PMID: 25328887
23.  AMP-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK) Mediates Nutrient Regulation of Thioredoxin-Interacting Protein (TXNIP) in Pancreatic Beta-Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28804.
Thioredoxin-interacting protein (TXNIP) regulates critical biological processes including inflammation, stress and apoptosis. TXNIP is upregulated by glucose and is a critical mediator of hyperglycemia-induced beta-cell apoptosis in diabetes. In contrast, the saturated long-chain fatty acid palmitate, although toxic to the beta-cell, inhibits TXNIP expression. The mechanisms involved in the opposing effects of glucose and fatty acids on TXNIP expression are unknown. We found that both palmitate and oleate inhibited TXNIP in a rat beta-cell line and islets. Palmitate inhibition of TXNIP was independent of fatty acid beta-oxidation or esterification. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) has an important role in cellular energy sensing and control of metabolic homeostasis; therefore we investigated its involvement in nutrient regulation of TXNIP. As expected, glucose inhibited whereas palmitate stimulated AMPK. Pharmacologic activators of AMPK mimicked fatty acids by inhibiting TXNIP. AMPK knockdown increased TXNIP expression in presence of high glucose with and without palmitate, indicating that nutrient (glucose and fatty acids) effects on TXNIP are mediated in part via modulation of AMPK activity. TXNIP is transcriptionally regulated by carbohydrate response element-binding protein (ChREBP). Palmitate inhibited glucose-stimulated ChREBP nuclear entry and recruitment to the Txnip promoter, thereby inhibiting Txnip transcription. We conclude that AMPK is an important regulator of Txnip transcription via modulation of ChREBP activity. The divergent effects of glucose and fatty acids on TXNIP expression result in part from their opposing effects on AMPK activity. In light of the important role of TXNIP in beta-cell apoptosis, its inhibition by fatty acids can be regarded as an adaptive/protective response to glucolipotoxicity. The finding that AMPK mediates nutrient regulation of TXNIP may have important implications for the pathophysiology and treatment of diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3237554  PMID: 22194917
24.  AMPK and mTOR regulate autophagy through direct phosphorylation of Ulk1 
Nature cell biology  2011;13(2):132-141.
Autophagy is a process by which components of the cell are degraded to maintain essential activity and viability in response to nutrient limitation. Extensive genetic studies have shown that the yeast ATG1 kinase has an essential role in autophagy induction. Furthermore, autophagy is promoted by AMP activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is a key energy sensor and regulates cellular metabolism to maintain energy homeostasis. Conversely, autophagy is inhibited by the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a central cell-growth regulator that integrates growth factor and nutrient signals. Here we demonstrate a molecular mechanism for regulation of the mammalian autophagy-initiating kinase Ulk1, a homologue of yeast ATG1. Under glucose starvation, AMPK promotes autophagy by directly activating Ulk1 through phosphorylation of Ser 317 and Ser 777. Under nutrient sufficiency, high mTOR activity prevents Ulk1 activation by phosphorylating Ulk1 Ser 757 and disrupting the interaction between Ulk1 and AMPK. This coordinated phosphorylation is important for Ulk1 in autophagy induction. Our study has revealed a signalling mechanism for Ulk1 regulation and autophagy induction in response to nutrient signalling.
PMCID: PMC3987946  PMID: 21258367
25.  Autophagy and phagocytosis-like cell cannibalism exert opposing effects on cellular survival during metabolic stress 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2012;19(10):1590-1601.
Understanding mechanisms controlling neuronal cell death and survival under conditions of altered energy supply (e.g., during stroke) is fundamentally important for the development of therapeutic strategies. The function of autophagy herein is unclear, as both its beneficial and detrimental roles have been described. We previously demonstrated that loss of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an evolutionarily conserved enzyme that maintains cellular energy balance, leads to activity-dependent degeneration in neuronal tissue. Here, we show that energy depletion in Drosophila AMPK mutants results in increased autophagy that convincingly promotes, rather than rescues, neurodegeneration. The generated excessive autophagic response is accompanied by increased TOR and S6K activity in the absence of an AMPK-mediated negative regulatory feedback loop. Moreover, energy-depleted neurons use a phagocytic-like process as a means to cellular survival at the expense of surrounding cells. Consequently, phagocytosis stimulation by expression of the scavenger receptor Croquemort significantly delays neurodegeneration. This study thus reveals a potentially novel strategy for cellular survival during conditions of extreme energy depletion, resembling xeno-cannibalistic events seen in metastatic tumors. We provide new insights into the roles of autophagy and phagocytosis in the neuronal metabolic stress response and open new avenues into understanding of human disease and development of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC3438490  PMID: 22498699
AMPK; autophagy; ; metabolism; neurodegeneration; phagocytosis

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