Natural (dihydro)phenanthrene plant compounds are direct activators of AMPK through its allosteric drug and metabolite–binding site
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AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a central energy sensor that coordinates the response to energy challenges to maintain cellular ATP levels. AMPK is a potential therapeutic target for treating metabolic disorders, and several direct synthetic activators of AMPK have been developed that show promise in preclinical models of type 2 diabetes. These compounds have been shown to regulate AMPK through binding to a novel allosteric drug and metabolite (ADaM)-binding site on AMPK, and it is possible that other molecules might similarly bind this site. Here, we performed a high-throughput screen with natural plant compounds to identify such direct allosteric activators of AMPK. We identified a natural plant dihydrophenathrene, Lusianthridin, which allosterically activates and protects AMPK from dephosphorylation by binding to the ADaM site. Similar to other ADaM site activators, Lusianthridin showed preferential activation of AMPKβ1-containing complexes in intact cells and was unable to activate an AMPKβ1 S108A mutant. Lusianthridin dose-dependently increased phosphorylation of acetyl-CoA carboxylase in mouse primary hepatocytes, which led to a corresponding decrease in de novo lipogenesis. This ability of Lusianthridin to inhibit lipogenesis was impaired in hepatocytes from β1 S108A knock-in mice and mice bearing a mutation at the AMPK phosphorylation site of acetyl-CoA carboxylase 1/2. Finally, we show that activation of AMPK by natural compounds extends to several analogs of Lusianthridin and the related chemical series, phenanthrenes. The emergence of natural plant compounds that regulate AMPK through the ADaM site raises the distinct possibility that other natural compounds share a common mechanism of regulation.
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