AMPK (5'-AMP-activated protein kinase) is emerging as a metabolic master switch, by which cells in both mammals and lower organisms sense and decode changes in energy status. Changes in AMPK activity have been shown to regulate glucose transport in muscle and glucose production by the liver. Moreover, AMPK appears to be a key regulator of at least one transcription factor linked to a monogenic form of diabetes mellitus. As a result, considerable efforts are now under way to explore the usefulness of AMPK as a therapeutic target for other forms of this disease. Here we review this topic, and discuss new findings which suggest that AMPK may play roles in regulating insulin release and the survival of pancreatic islet beta-cells, and nutrient sensing by the brain.