Cellular fuel gauge may hold the key to restricting cancer growth

December 27, 2012, McGill University

Researchers at McGill University have discovered that a key regulator of energy metabolism in cancer cells known as the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) may play a crucial role in restricting cancer cell growth. AMPK acts as a "fuel gauge" in cells; AMPK is turned on when it senses changes in energy levels, and helps to change metabolism when energy levels are low, such as during exercise or when fasting. The researchers found that AMPK also regulates cancer cell metabolism and can restrict cancer cell growth.

The discovery was made by Russell (Rusty) Jones, an assistant professor at McGill's Goodman Cancer Research Centre and the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine. Jones along with his team is the first to show that AMPK can act as a in animals. The research will be published December 27 in the journal .

"Cancer is a disease in which cells lose their normal restraints on growth and start to divide uncontrollably. But, in order for cells to grow quickly they need enough energy to complete the task," Jones explained. "AMPK acts like the fuel gauge in your car – it lets the body know when energy levels are low, and stops cell growth until there is enough gas in the tank. We wanted to see if this fuel gauge could affect the development and progression of cancer. We found that mice lacking AMPK developed tumours faster, suggesting that AMPK is important for keeping tumour development in check, at least for some ." For this study, Jones' team focused specifically on a type of known as lymphoma. They discovered that the protein Myc, which is activated in more than half of all cancers, could promote lymphoma more rapidly when mice were deficient for AMPK.

One of the ways support their enhanced rate of growth is by changing their metabolism, or how they generate energy. Cancer cells are different from normal cells in our body because they preferentially use sugar to fuel their growth. Jones discovered that AMPK plays a specific role in restricting cancer cells' ability to use sugar to fuel their growth. "For cancer cells with low AMPK levels, their metabolism goes into overdrive," explained Prof. Jones. "They use sugar more efficiently, allowing them to grow faster. These results suggest that turning on AMPK in cancer cells may be one way that we can restrict cancer growth."

Jones' breakthrough builds on his previous discovery that the widely prescribed medication metformin, a common diabetes drug, can restrict tumour cell growth. The results bring promise that common therapeutics that turn on AMPK and alter cellular metabolism, such as metformin, may become novel tools for cancer therapy. Jones and his colleagues at McGill are currently exploring clinical applications based on this research.

Explore further: AMPK amplifies Huntington's disease

Related Stories

AMPK amplifies Huntington's disease

July 18, 2011
A new study describes how hyperactivation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) promotes neurodegeneration in Huntington's disease (HD). The article appears online on July 18, 2011, in The Journal of Cell Biology.

Cell energy sensor mechanism discovered: Studies linked to better understanding of cancer drugs

February 21, 2012
Johns Hopkins and National Taiwan University researchers have discovered more details about how an energy sensing "thermostat" protein determines whether cells will store or use their energy reserves.

Key enzyme plays roles as both friend and foe to cancer

June 14, 2012
A molecule thought to limit cell proliferation also helps cancer cells survive during initial tumor formation and when the wayward cells spread to other organs in the body, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago ...

Recommended for you

Targeting the engine room of the cancer cell

June 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) have developed a highly innovative computational framework that can support personalized cancer treatment by matching individual tumors with the drugs or drug ...

Study suggests well-known growth suppressor actually fuels lethal brain cancers

June 18, 2018
Scientists report finding a potentially promising treatment target for aggressive and deadly high-grade brain cancers like glioblastoma. But they also say the current lack of a drug that hits the molecular target keeps it ...

Researchers create novel combination as potential therapy for high-risk neuroblastoma

June 18, 2018
Researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Virginia, have identified a promising target to reverse the development of high-risk neuroblastoma and potentially inform the creation of novel combination therapies for ...

Genomics offers new treatment options for infants with range of soft tissue tumors

June 18, 2018
The genetic causes of a group of related infant cancers have been discovered by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Wuerzburg and their collaborators. Whole genome sequencing of tumours revealed ...

Standard myelofibrosis drug can awaken 'dormant' lymphoma

June 18, 2018
Most patients with myelofibrosis, a rare chronic disorder of the haematopoietic cells of the bone marrow, benefit from drugs from the JAK2 inhibitor class: symptoms are relieved, survival extended and general quality-of-life ...

Breast cancer researcher warns against online genetic tests

June 18, 2018
We have never been so fascinated by the secrets inside our cells.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.