AMP-activated protein kinase is activated in adipose tissue of individuals with type 2 diabetes treated with metformin: a randomised glycaemia-controlled crossover study

Diabetologia. 2011 Jul;54(7):1799-809. doi: 10.1007/s00125-011-2126-4. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


Aims/hypothesis: The hypoglycaemic actions of metformin have been proposed to be mediated by hepatic AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). As the effects of metformin and the role of AMPK in adipose tissue remain poorly characterised, we examined the effect of metformin on AMPK activity in adipose tissue of individuals with type 2 diabetes in a randomised glycaemia-controlled crossover study.

Methods: Twenty men with type 2 diabetes (aged 50-70 years) treated with diet, metformin or sulfonylurea alone were recruited from North Glasgow University National Health Service Trusts' diabetes clinics and randomised to either metformin or gliclazide for 10 weeks. Randomisation codes, generated by computer, were put into sealed envelopes and stored by the hospital pharmacist. Medication bottles were numbered, and allocation was done in sequence. The participants and investigators were blinded to group assignment. At the end of each phase of therapy adipose biopsy, AMPK activity (primary endpoint) and levels of lipid metabolism and signalling proteins were assessed. In parallel, the effect of metformin on AMPK and insulin-signalling pathways was investigated in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.

Results: Ten participants were initially randomised to metformin and subsequently crossed over to gliclazide, while ten participants were initially randomised to gliclazide and subsequently crossed over to metformin. No participants discontinued the intervention and the adipose tissue AMPK activity was analysed in all 20 participants. There were no adverse events or side effects in the study group. Adipose AMPK activity was increased following metformin compared with gliclazide therapy (0.057 ± 0.007 vs 0.030 ± 0.005 [mean ± SEM] nmol min(-1) [mg lysate](-1); p < 0.005), independent of AMPK level, glycaemia or plasma adiponectin concentrations. The increase was associated with reduced levels of acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) protein and increased ACC Ser80 phosphorylation. In 3T3-L1 adipocytes, metformin reduced levels of ACC protein and stimulated phosphorylation of AMPK Thr172 and hormone-sensitive lipase Ser565.

Conclusions: These results provide the first evidence that metformin activates AMPK and reduces ACC protein levels in human adipose tissue in vivo. Future studies are required to assess the role of adipose AMPK activation in the pharmacological effects of metformin.

Trial registration: ISRCTN51336867.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Aged
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / enzymology*
  • Gliclazide / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Gliclazide

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN51336867