Activation of 5'-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is believed to be the mechanism by which the pharmaceuticals, metformin and phenformin, exert their beneficial effects for treatment of type 2 diabetes. These biguanide drugs elevate 5'-AMP, which allosterically activates AMPK and promotes phosphorylation on Thr172 of AMPK catalytic α subunits. Although kinases phosphorylating this site have been identified, phosphatases that dephosphorylate it are unknown. The aim of this study is to identify protein phosphatase(s) that dephosphorylate AMPKα-Thr172 within cells. Our initial data indicated that members of the protein phosphatase Mg/Mn(2+)-dependent [corrected] (PPM) family and not those of the PPP family of protein serine/threonine phosphatases may be directly or indirectly inhibited by phenformin. Using antibodies raised to individual Ppm phosphatases that facilitated the assessment of their activities, phenformin stimulation of cells was found to decrease the Mg(2+)/Mn(2+)-dependent [corrected] protein serine/threonine phosphatase activity of Ppm1E and Ppm1F, but not that attributable to other PPM family members, including Ppm1A/PP2Cα. Depletion of Ppm1E, but not Ppm1A, using lentiviral-mediated stable gene silencing, increased AMPKα-Thr172 phosphorylation approximately three fold in HEK293 cells. In addition, incubation of cells with low concentrations of phenformin and depletion of Ppm1E increased AMPK phosphorylation synergistically. Ppm1E and the closely related Ppm1F interact weakly with AMPK and assays with lysates of cells stably depleted of Ppm1F suggest [corrected] that this phosphatase contributes to dephosphorylation of AMPK. The data indicate that Ppm1E and probably PpM1F are in cellulo AMPK phosphatases and that Ppm1E is a potential anti-diabetic drug target.
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