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Targeting AMP-activated protein kinase in adipocytes to modulate obesity-related adipokine production associated with insulin resistance and breast cancer cell proliferation

Jean Grisouard1*, Kaethi Dembinski1, Doris Mayer2, Ulrich Keller13, Beat Müller4 and Mirjam Christ-Crain13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedicine, University Hospital Basel, Basel, CH-4031, Switzerland

2 Hormones and Signal Transduction, German Cancer Research Centre, DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance, Heidelberg, D-69120, Germany

3 Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition, University Hospital Basel, Basel, CH-4031, Switzerland

4 Medical University Clinic, Kantonsspital Aarau, Aarau, CH-5001, Switzerland

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Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome 2011, 3:16  doi:10.1186/1758-5996-3-16

Published: 20 July 2011



Adipokines, e.g. TNFα, IL-6 and leptin increase insulin resistance, and consequent hyperinsulinaemia influences breast cancer progression. Beside its mitogenic effects, insulin may influence adipokine production from adipocyte stromal cells and paracrine enhancement of breast cancer cell growth. In contrast, adiponectin, another adipokine is protective against breast cancer cell proliferation and insulin resistance.

AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activity has been found decreased in visceral adipose tissue of insulin-resistant patients. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) link systemic inflammation to high fat diet-induced insulin resistance. Modulation of LPS-induced adipokine production by metformin and AMPK activation might represent an alternative way to treat both, insulin resistance and breast cancer.


Human preadipocytes obtained from surgical biopsies were expanded and differentiated in vitro into adipocytes, and incubated with siRNA targeting AMPKalpha1 (72 h), LPS (24 h, 100 μg/ml) and/or metformin (24 h, 1 mM) followed by mRNA extraction and analyses. Additionally, the supernatant of preadipocytes or derived-adipocytes in culture for 24 h was used as conditioned media to evaluate MCF-7 breast cancer cell proliferation.


Conditioned media from preadipocyte-derived adipocytes, but not from undifferentiated preadipocytes, increased MCF-7 cell proliferation (p < 0.01). Induction of IL-6 mRNA by LPS was reduced by metformin (p < 0.01), while the LPS-induced mRNA expression of the naturally occurring anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 receptor antagonist was increased (p < 0.01). Silencing of AMPKalpha1 enhanced LPS-induced IL-6 and IL-8 mRNA expression (p < 0.05).


Adipocyte-secreted factors enhance breast cancer cell proliferation, while AMPK and metformin improve the LPS-induced adipokine imbalance. Possibly, AMPK activation may provide a new way not only to improve the obesity-related adipokine profile and insulin resistance, but also to prevent obesity-related breast cancer development and progression.