Phosphorylation of the insulin receptor by AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) promotes ligand-independent activation of the insulin signalling pathway in rodent muscle

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Muscle may experience hypoglycaemia during ischaemia or insulin infusion. During severe hypoglycaemia energy production is blocked, and an increase of AMP:ATP activates the energy sensor and putative insulin-sensitiser AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK promotes energy conservation and survival by shutting down anabolism and activating catabolic pathways. We investigated the molecular mechanism of a unique glucose stress defence pathway involving AMPK-dependent, insulin-independent activation of the insulin signalling pathway.


Cardiac or skeletal myocytes were subjected to glucose and insulin-free incubation for increasing intervals up to 20 h. AMPK, and components of the insulin signalling pathway and their targets were quantified by western blot using phosphor-specific antibodies. Phosphomimetics were used to determine the function of IRS-1 Ser789 phosphorylation and in vitro [32P]ATP kinase assays were used to measure the phosphorylation of the purified insulin receptor by AMPK.


Glucose deprivation increased Akt-Thr308 and Akt-Ser473 phosphorylation by almost tenfold. Phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta increased in parallel, but phosphorylation of ribosomal 70S subunit-S6 protein kinase and mammalian target of rapamycin decreased. AMPK inhibitors blocked and aminoimidazole carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR) mimicked the effects of glucose starvation. Glucose deprivation increased the phosphorylation of IRS-1 on serine-789, but phosphomimetics revealed that this conferred negative regulation. Glucose deprivation enhanced tyrosine phosphorylation of IRS-1 and the insulin receptor, effects that were blocked by AMPK inhibition and mimicked by AICAR. In vitro kinase assays using purified proteins confirmed that the insulin receptor is a direct target of AMPK.


AMPK phosphorylates and activates the insulin receptor, providing a direct link between AMPK and the insulin signalling pathway; this pathway promotes energy conservation and survival of muscle exposed to severe glucose deprivation.

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