The tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a TNF superfamily member that is being considered as a new strategy in anticancer therapy because of its ability to induce apoptosis, alone or in combination with other stimuli, in many cancer cells. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an evolutionarily conserved key regulator of cellular energy homeostasis that protects the cell from energy depletion and stress by activating several biochemical pathways that lead to the conservation, as well as generation, of ATP. Here we report that a number of AMPK activators, including the small molecule activator A-769662, markedly sensitize TRAIL-resistant breast cancer cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. However, silencing AMPKalpha1 expression with siRNA or over-expression of DN-AMPKalpha1 does not inhibit AICAR, glucose deprivation, phenformin or A-769662-induced sensitization to TRAIL. Furthermore, the expression of constitutively active AMPK subunits does not sensitize resistant breast cancer cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. The cellular FLICE-inhibitory proteins (cFLIP(L) and cFLIP(S)) were significantly down-regulated following exposure to AMPK activators through an AMPK-independent mechanism. Furthermore, in cells over-expressing cFLIP(L), sensitization to TRAIL by AMPK activators was markedly reduced. In summary, our results indicate that AMPK activators facilitate the activation by TRAIL of an apoptotic cell death program through a mechanism independent of AMPK and dependent on the down-regulation of cFLIP levels.
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