Epithelial–Mesenchymal Transition Suppresses AMPK and Sensitizes Cancer Cells to Pyroptosis under Energy Stress

Mingwei Liang, Jennifer W. Li, Huacheng Luo, Sarah Lulu, Ozlem Calbay, Anitha Shenoy, Ming Tan, Brian K. Law, Shuang Huang, Tsan Sam Xiao, Hao Chen, Lizi Wu, Jia Chang, Jianrong Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is implicated in tumor metastasis and therapeutic resistance. It remains a challenge to target cancer cells that have undergone EMT. The Snail family of key EMT-inducing transcription factors directly binds to and transcriptionally represses not only epithelial genes but also a myriad of additional genomic targets that may carry out significant biological functions. Therefore, we reasoned that EMT inherently causes various concomitant phenotypes, some of which may create targetable vulnerabilities for cancer treatment. In the present study, we found that Snail transcription factors bind to the promoters of multiple genes encoding subunits of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) complex, and expression of AMPK genes was markedly downregulated by EMT. Accordingly, high AMPK expression in tumors correlated with epithelial cell markers and low AMPK expression in tumors was strongly associated with adverse prognosis. AMPK is the principal sensor of cellular energy status. In response to energy stress, AMPK is activated and critically reprograms cellular metabolism to restore energy homeostasis and maintain cell survival. We showed that activation of AMPK by energy stress was severely impaired by EMT. Consequently, EMT cancer cells became hypersensitive to a variety of energy stress conditions and primarily underwent pyroptosis, a regulated form of necrotic cell death. Collectively, the study suggests that EMT impedes the activation of AMPK signaling induced by energy stress and sensitizes cancer cells to pyroptotic cell death under energy stress conditions. Therefore, while EMT promotes malignant progression, it concurrently induces collateral vulnerabilities that may be therapeutically exploited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2208
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Epithelial–Mesenchymal Transition Suppresses AMPK and Sensitizes Cancer Cells to Pyroptosis under Energy Stress'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this