In a new study in Nature, Nissim Hay and his colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago say that AMPK may play a dual role in cancer, according to a university press release. The enzyme is thought to limit cell proliferation, but as the new study shows, it also helps cancer cells survive both when tumors form and when they metastasize. "Paradoxically, activated AMPK is actually required for the survival of the cancer cell during metabolic stress, when glucose uptake is decreased," Hay says. Cancer cells are under metabolic stress during tumor formation and again when they migrate to form metastases, the university adds. The researchers found that AMPK indirectly regulates NADPH, which reduces harmful reactive-oxygen species. "The new study may also help to explain a previous unexpected finding: that cells that are deficient in AMPK, or in another enzyme that is responsible for activating AMPK, called LKB1, are resistant to becoming cancerous," the press release says.
AMPK had previously been considered to be a possible target of chemotherapy drugs because of its role in inhibiting cancer cell growth. Hay says that for that to work, it would also be necessary to administer a second targeted agent to aim at the fatty acid synthesis enzymes to inhibit AMPK's protective effects.