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The glucose dependence of Akt-transformed cells can be reversed by pharmacologic activation of fatty acid β-oxidation


Activation of the oncogenic kinase Akt stimulates glucose uptake and metabolism in cancer cells and renders these cells susceptible to death in response to glucose withdrawal. Here we show that 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside (AICAR) reverses the sensitivity of Akt-expressing glioblastoma cells to glucose deprivation. AICAR's protection depends on the activation of AMPK, as expression of a dominant-negative form of AMPK abolished this effect. AMPK is a cellular energy sensor whose activation can both block anabolic pathways such as protein synthesis and activate catabolic reactions such as fatty acid oxidation to maintain cellular bioenergetics. While rapamycin treatment mimicked the effect of AICAR on inhibiting markers of cap-dependent translation, it failed to protect Akt-expressing cells from death upon glucose withdrawal. Compared to control cells, Akt-expressing cells were impaired in the ability to induce fatty acid oxidation in response to glucose deprivation unless stimulated with AICAR. Stimulation of fatty acid oxidation was sufficient to maintain cell survival as activation of fatty acid oxidation with bezafibrate also protected Akt-expressing cells from glucose withdrawal-induced death. Conversely, treatment with a CPT-1 inhibitor to block fatty acid import into mitochondria prevented AICAR from stimulating fatty acid oxidation and promoting cell survival in the absence of glucose. Finally, cell survival did not require reversal of Akt's effects on either protein translation or lipid synthesis as the addition of the cell penetrant oxidizable substrate methyl-pyruvate was sufficient to maintain survival of Akt-expressing cells deprived of glucose. Together, these data suggest that activation of Akt blocks the ability of cancer cells to metabolize nonglycolytic bioenergetic substrates, leading to glucose addiction.

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We thank Dr Morris Birnbaum for providing the dnAMPK plasmid and the AMPK antibody, Casey Fox, Aimee Edinger, and the rest of the Thompson laboratory for technical help, discussions and comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by grants from the NIH and NCI. RGS is supported by the Cancer Research Institute. RJD is supported by an NIH Training Grant (5T32-GM008638-08). GH is a Damon Runyon Fellow supported by the Damon Rynyon Cancer Research Foundation (DRG- #1714-02).

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Correspondence to Craig B Thompson.

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Buzzai, M., Bauer, D., Jones, R. et al. The glucose dependence of Akt-transformed cells can be reversed by pharmacologic activation of fatty acid β-oxidation. Oncogene 24, 4165–4173 (2005).

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  • Akt
  • AMPK
  • fatty acid oxidation
  • metabolism
  • glucose

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