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The Ancient Drug Salicylate Directly Activates AMP-Activated Protein Kinase

Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 918-922
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215327

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An Aspirin a Day?

The protein kinase AMPK (adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase) directly monitors cellular energy stores as reflected by changes in cellular concentrations of AMP, adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Through phosphorylation of its targets, it helps to control metabolism, polarity, autophagy, and the restraint of cell proliferation. Activation of AMPK is also proposed to be beneficial for the treatment of diseases, including cancer and diabetes. Hawley et al. (p. 918, published online 19 April; see the Perspective by Shaw and Cantley) report that AMPK can be activated by high concentrations of salicylate, a compound derived from the very commonly used drug aspirin. In mice, salicylate promoted fatty acid and carbohydrate metabolism in an AMPK-dependent fashion.

Abstract

Salicylate, a plant product, has been in medicinal use since ancient times. More recently, it has been replaced by synthetic derivatives such as aspirin and salsalate, both of which are rapidly broken down to salicylate in vivo. At concentrations reached in plasma after administration of salsalate or of aspirin at high doses, salicylate activates adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase (AMPK), a central regulator of cell growth and metabolism. Salicylate binds at the same site as the synthetic activator A-769662 to cause allosteric activation and inhibition of dephosphorylation of the activating phosphorylation site, threonine-172. In AMPK knockout mice, effects of salicylate to increase fat utilization and to lower plasma fatty acids in vivo were lost. Our results suggest that AMPK activation could explain some beneficial effects of salsalate and aspirin in humans.

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