The AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is characterized by its ability to bind to AMP, which enables it to adjust enzymatic activity by sensing the cellular energy status and maintain the balance between ATP production and consumption in eukaryotic cells1 2. It also has important roles in the regulation of cell growth and proliferation, and in the establishment and maintenance of cell polarity3. These important functions have rendered AMPK an important drug target for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer treatments4. However, the regulatory mechanism of AMPK activity by AMP binding remains unsolved. Here we report the crystal structures of an unphosphorylated fragment of the AMPK α-subunit (KD-AID) fromSchizosaccharomyces pombethat contains both the catalytic kinase domain and an autoinhibitory domain (AID), and of a phosphorylated kinase domain fromSaccharomyces cerevisiae(Snf1-pKD). The AID binds, from the ‘backside’, to the hinge region of its kinase domain, forming contacts with both amino-terminal and carboxy-terminal lobes. Structural analyses indicate that AID binding might constrain the mobility of helix αC, hence resulting in an autoinhibited KD-AID with much lower kinase activity than that of the kinase domain alone. AMP activates AMPK both allosterically and by inhibiting dephosphorylation5 6. Furtherin vitrokinetic studies demonstrate that disruption of the KD-AID interface reverses the autoinhibition and these AMPK heterotrimeric mutants no longer respond to the change in AMP concentration. The structural and biochemical data have shown the primary mechanism of AMPK autoinhibition and suggest a conformational switch model for AMPK activation by AMP.