Cellular fuel gauge may hold the key to restricting cancer growth

December 27, 2012

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

Clinical trial suggests new cell therapy for relapsed leukemia patients

November 20, 2017
A significant proportion of children and young adults with treatment-resistant B-cell leukemia who participated in a small study achieved remission with the help of a new form of gene therapy, according to researchers at ...

Researchers discover a new target for 'triple-negative' breast cancer

November 20, 2017
So-called "triple-negative" breast cancer is a particularly aggressive and difficult-to-treat form. It accounts for only about 10 percent of breast cancer cases, but is responsible for about 25 percent of breast cancer fatalities.

Study reveals new mechanism used by cancer cells to disarm attacking immune cells

November 20, 2017
A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC - James) identifies a substance released by pancreatic cancer cells that protects ...

Cell-weighing method could help doctors choose cancer drugs

November 20, 2017
Doctors have many drugs available to treat multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. However, there is no way to predict, by genetic markers or other means, how a patient will respond to a particular drug. This can lead to ...

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

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.