Activators of the energy sensing kinase AMPK inhibit random cell movement and chemotaxis in U937 cells

Immunol Cell Biol. 2006 Feb;84(1):6-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1711.2005.01388.x.


AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a key energy sensor, known to regulate energy metabolism in diverse cell types. Hypoxia is encountered frequently in the microenvironments of inflammatory lesions and is a critical regulator of function in inflammatory cells. Energy deficiency is one of the consequences of hypoxia, but its potential role in modulating leucocyte function has received little attention. Using micropore chemotaxis assays to assess migratory responses of the monocyte-like cell line U937, it was found that the AMPK activators AICAR and phenformin rapidly reduced random migration (chemokinesis) as well as chemotaxis due to stromal cell-derived factor (SDF)1alpha. There was an approximate 50% reduction in both chemokinesis and chemotaxis following 30 min preincubation with both AICAR and phenformin (P < 0.01), and this continued with up to 24 h preincubation. The binding of SDF1alpha to its receptor CXCR4 was unaltered, suggesting AMPK was acting on downstream intracellular signalling pathways important in cell migration. As AMPK and statins are known to inhibit HMG CoA reductase, and both reduce cell migration, the effect of mevastatin on U937 cells was compared with AMPK activators. Mevastatin inhibited cell migration but required 24 h preincubation. As expected, the inhibitory effect of mevastatin was associated with altered subcellular localization of the Rho GTPases, RhoA and cdc42, indicating decreased prenylation of these molecules. Although the effect of AMPK activation was partially reversed by mevalonate, this was not associated with altered subcellular localization of Rho GTPases. The data suggest that activation of AMPK has a general effect on cell movement in U937 cells, and this is not due to inhibition of HMG CoA reductase. These are the first data to show an effect of AMPK on cell movement, and suggest a fundamental role for energy deficiency in regulating cellular behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Aminoimidazole Carboxamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Aminoimidazole Carboxamide / pharmacology
  • Cell Movement / drug effects*
  • Chemokine CCL2 / pharmacology
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC / pharmacology
  • Chemotaxis / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Synergism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Activators / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Lovastatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Lovastatin / pharmacology
  • Mevalonic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Mevalonic Acid / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinases / physiology
  • Ribonucleotides / pharmacology
  • U937 Cells
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • CXCL12 protein, human
  • Ccl2 protein, mouse
  • Chemokine CCL2
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC
  • Cxcl12 protein, mouse
  • Enzyme Activators
  • Ribonucleotides
  • mevastatin
  • Aminoimidazole Carboxamide
  • mevalonolactone
  • Lovastatin
  • Protein Kinases
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins
  • AICA ribonucleotide
  • Mevalonic Acid