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Maintaining a steady balance between nutrient supply and energy demand is essential for all living organisms and is achieved through the dynamic control of metabolic processes that produce and consume adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP), the universal currency of energy in all cells. A key sensor of cellular energy is the adenosine-5′-monophosphate (AMP)-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is the core component of a signaling network that regulates energy and nutrient metabolism. AMPK is activated by metabolic stresses that decrease cellular ATP, and functions to restore energy balance by orchestrating a switch in metabolism away from anabolic pathways toward energy-generating catabolic processes. A new study published in a recent issue of Biochemical Journal by Zibrova et al. shows that glutamine:fructose-6-phosphate amidotransferase-1 (GFAT1), the rate-limiting enzyme of the hexosamine biosynthesis pathway (HBP), is a physiological substrate of AMPK. The HBP is an offshoot of the glycolytic pathway that drives the synthesis of uridine-5′-diphospho-N-acetylglucosamine, the requisite donor metabolite needed for dynamic β-N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) modification (O-GlcNAcylation) of cellular proteins. O-GlcNAcylation is a nutrient-sensitive post-translational modification that, like phosphorylation, regulates numerous intracellular processes. Zibrova et al. show that inhibitory phosphorylation of the GFAT1 residue Ser243 by AMPK in response to physiological or small-molecule activators leads to a reduction in cellular protein O-GlcNAcylation. Further work revealed that AMPK-dependent phosphorylation of GFAT1 promotes angiogenesis in endothelial cells. This elegant study demonstrates that the AMPK–GFAT1 signaling axis serves as an important communication point between two nutrient-sensitive signaling pathways and is likely to play a significant role in controlling physiological processes in many other tissues.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Journal Article

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