AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) is a key regulator of cellular and whole-body energy balance. AMPK phosphorylates and regulates many proteins concerned with nutrient metabolism, largely acting to suppress anabolic ATP-consuming pathways while stimulating catabolic ATP-generating pathways. This has led to considerable interest in AMPK as a therapeutic target for the metabolic dysfunction observed in obesity and insulin resistance. The role of AMPK in skeletal muscle and the liver has been extensively studied, such that AMPK has been demonstrated to inhibit synthesis of fatty acids, cholesterol and isoprenoids, hepatic gluconeogenesis and translation while increasing fatty acid oxidation, muscle glucose transport, mitochondrial biogenesis and caloric intake. The role of AMPK in the other principal metabolic and insulin-sensitive tissue, adipose, remains poorly characterized in comparison, yet increasing evidence supports an important role for AMPK in adipose tissue function. Obesity is characterized by hypertrophy of adipocytes and the development of a chronic sub-clinical pro-inflammatory environment in adipose tissue, leading to increased infiltration of immune cells. This combination of dysfunctional hypertrophic adipocytes and a pro-inflammatory environment contributes to insulin resistance and the development of Type 2 diabetes. Exciting recent studies indicate that AMPK may not only influence metabolism in adipocytes, but also act to suppress this pro-inflammatory environment, such that targeting AMPK in adipose tissue may be desirable to normalize adipose dysfunction and inflammation. In the present review, we discuss the role of AMPK in adipose tissue, focussing on the regulation of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, adipogenesis and pro-inflammatory pathways in physiological and pathophysiological conditions.

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