AMPK-mediated energy homeostasis and associated metabolic effects on cancer cell response and resistance to cetuximab

Xinqun Li, Yang Lu, Haiquan Lu, Jingtao Luo, Yun Hong, Zhen Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We previously reported that cetuximab, an EGFR-blocking antibody, inhibits cancer metabolism via downregulation of HIF-1α and reverses the Warburg effect in cancer cells. Here, we report that inhibition of HIF-1 transcriptional activity by cetuximab does not necessarily lead to successful inhibition of cell proliferation. In several head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cell lines, we observed a pattern of oscillating decrease and increase of intracellular ATP level after cetuximab treatment, and the magnitude and kinetics of which varied by cell line and appeared to be linked to the extent of cellular response to cetuximab. In HNSCC cells with low basal level of AMPK activity and that responded to cetuximab-induced growth inhibition, there was a transient, LKB1-dependent activation of AMPK. In contrast, HNSCC cells that had a high basal level of AMPK activity were less sensitive to cetuximab-induced growth inhibition despite effective inhibition of EGFR downstream signaling by cetuximab. Knockdown or inhibition of AMPK markedly enhanced response to cetuximab via induction of apoptosis. These findings indicate that a transient activation of AMPK is an early metabolic marker of cellular response to cetuximab and that high and sustained AMPK activity is an important mechanism by which cancer cells survive cetuximab treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11507-11518
Number of pages12
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • AMPK
  • Cancer metabolism
  • Cetuximab
  • EGFR
  • HIF-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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