Activation of AMP-activated protein kinase induces p53-dependent apoptotic cell death in response to energetic stress

J Biol Chem. 2008 Feb 15;283(7):3979-87. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M705232200. Epub 2007 Dec 4.


Tumor suppressor p53-dependent stress response pathways play an important role in cell fate determination. In this study, we have found that glucose depletion promotes the phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase catalytic subunit alpha (AMPKalpha) in association with a significant up-regulation of p53, thereby inducing p53-dependent apoptosis in vivo and in vitro. Thymocytes prepared from glucose-depleted wild-type mice but not from p53-deficient mice underwent apoptosis, which was accompanied by a remarkable phosphorylation of AMPKalpha and a significant induction of p53 as well as pro-apoptotic Bax. Similar results were also obtained in human osteosarcoma-derived U2OS cells bearing wild-type p53 following glucose starvation. Of note, glucose deprivation led to a significant accumulation of p53 phosphorylated at Ser-46, but not at Ser-15 and Ser-20, and a transcriptional induction of p53 as well as proapoptotic p53 AIP1. Small interference RNA-mediated knockdown of p53 caused an inhibition of apoptosis following glucose depletion. Additionally, apoptosis triggered by glucose deprivation was markedly impaired by small interference RNA-mediated depletion of AMPKalpha. Under our experimental conditions, down-regulation of AMPKalpha caused an attenuation of p53 accumulation and its phosphorylation at Ser-46. In support of these observations, enforced expression of AMPKalpha led to apoptosis and resulted in an induction of p53 at protein and mRNA levels. Furthermore, p53 promoter region responded to AMPKalpha and glucose deprivation as judged by luciferase reporter assay. Taken together, our present findings suggest that AMPK-dependent transcriptional induction and phosphorylation of p53 at Ser-46 play a crucial role in the induction of apoptosis under carbon source depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Primers
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*
  • Up-Regulation


  • DNA Primers
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Glucose