AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is the downstream component of a protein kinase cascade that plays a major role in maintaining energy homoeostasis. Within individual cells, AMPK is activated by a rise in the AMP/ATP ratio that occurs following a fall in ATP levels. AMPK is also regulated by the adipokines, adiponectin and leptin, hormones that are secreted from adipocytes. AMPK regulates a wide range of metabolic pathways, including fatty acid oxidation, fatty acid synthesis, glycolysis and gluconeogenesis. In peripheral tissues, activation of AMPK leads to responses that are beneficial in counteracting the deleterious effects that arise in the metabolic syndrome. Recent studies have demonstrated that modulation of AMPK activity in the hypothalamus plays a role in feeding. A decrease in hypothalamic AMPK activity is associated with decreased feeding, whereas activation of AMPK leads to increased food intake. Furthermore, signalling pathways occurring in the hypothalamus lead to changes in AMPK activity in peripheral tissues, such as skeletal muscle, via the sympathetic nervous system. AMPK, therefore, provides a mechanism for monitoring changes in energy metabolism within individual cells and at the level of the whole body. Activation of AMPK requires phosphorylation of threonine 172 (Thr-172) within the catalytic subunit. Recent studies have shown that both LKB1 and Ca(2+)/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase-beta (CaMKKbeta) play important roles in phosphorylating and activating AMPK. In addition, there is evidence that AMPK can be activated by other upstream kinases, although the physiological significance of this is not clear at present. This review focuses on the role of LKB1 and CaMKKbeta in the regulation of AMPK.