Autophagic activity in isolated rat hepatocytes is strongly suppressed by OA (okadaic acid) and other PP (protein phosphatase)-inhibitory toxins as well as by AICAR (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide riboside), a direct activator of AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase). To investigate whether AMPK is a mediator of the effects of the toxin, a phosphospecific antibody directed against the activation of phosphorylation of the AMPK α (catalytic)-subunit at Thr172 was used to assess the activation status of this enzyme. AICAR as well as all the toxins tested (OA, microcystin-LR, calyculin A, cantharidin and tautomycin) induced strong, dose-dependent AMPKα phosphorylation, correlating with AMPK activity in situ (in intact hepatocytes) as measured by the AMPK-dependent phosphorylation of acetyl-CoA carboxylase at Ser79. All treatments induced the appearance of multiple, phosphatase-sensitive, low-mobility forms of the AMPK α-subunit, consistent with phosphorylation at several sites other than Thr172. The flavonoid naringin, an effective antagonist of OA-induced autophagy suppression, inhibited the AMPK phosphorylation and mobility shifting induced by AICAR, OA or microcystin, but not the changes induced by calyculin A or cantharidin. AMPK may thus be activated both by a naringin-sensitive and a naringin-resistant mechanism, probably involving the PPs PP2A and PP1 respectively. Neither the Thr172-phosphorylating protein kinase LKB1 nor the Thr172-dephosphorylating PP, PP2C, were mobility-shifted after treatment with toxins or AICAR, whereas a slight mobility shifting of the regulatory AMPK β-subunit was indicated. Immunoblotting with a phosphospecific antibody against pSer108 at the β-subunit revealed a naringin-sensitive phosphorylation induced by OA, microcystin and AICAR and a naringin-resistant phosphorylation induced by calyculin A and cantharidin, suggesting that β-subunit phosphorylation could play a role in AMPK activation. Naringin antagonized the autophagy-suppressive effects of AICAR and OA, but not the autophagy suppression caused by cantharidin, consistent with AMPK-mediated inhibition of autophagy by toxins as well as by AICAR.

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