Open Access Research

Iron deficiency causes a shift in AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) subunit composition in rat skeletal muscle

John F Merrill1, David M Thomson1, Shalene E Hardman1, Squire D Hepworth2, Shelby Willie1 and Chad R Hancock2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA

2 Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA

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Nutrition & Metabolism 2012, 9:104  doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-104

Published: 21 November 2012



As a cellular energy sensor, the 5’AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is activated in response to energy stresses such as hypoxia and muscle contraction. To determine effects of iron deficiency on AMPK activation and signaling, as well as the AMPK subunit composition in skeletal muscle, rats were fed a control (C=50-58 mg/kg Fe) or iron deficient (ID=2-6 mg/kg Fe) diet for 6–8 wks.


Their respective hematocrits were 47.5% ± 1.0 and 16.5% ± 0.6. Iron deficiency resulted in 28.3% greater muscle fatigue (p<0.01) in response to 10 min of stimulation (1 twitch/sec) and was associated with a greater reduction in phosphocreatine (C: Resting 24.1 ± 0.9 μmol/g, Stim 13.1 ± 1.5 μmol/g; ID: Resting 22.7 ± 1.0 μmol/g, Stim 3.2 ± 0.7 μmol/g; p<0.01) and ATP levels (C: Resting 5.89 ± 0.48 μmol/g, Stim 6.03 ± 0.35 μmol/g; ID: Resting 5.51 ± 0.20 μmol/g, Stim 4.19 ± 0.47 μmol/g; p<0.05). AMPK activation increased with stimulation in muscles of C and ID animals. A reduction in Cytochrome c and other iron-dependent mitochondrial proteins was observed in ID animals (p<0.01). The AMPK catalytic subunit (α) was examined because both isoforms are known to play different roles in responding to energy challenges. In ID animals, AMPKα2 subunit protein content was reduced to 71.6% of C (p<0.05), however this did not result in a significant difference in resting AMPKα2 activity. AMPKα1 protein was unchanged, however an overall increase in AMPKα1 activity was observed (C: 0.91 pmol/mg/min; ID: 1.63 pmol/mg/min; p<0.05). Resting phospho Acetyl CoA Carboxylase (pACC) was unchanged. In addition, we observed significant reductions in the β2 and γ3 subunits of AMPK in response to iron deficiency.


This study indicates that chronic iron deficiency causes a shift in the expression of AMPKα, β, and γ subunit composition. Iron deficiency also causes chronic activation of AMPK as well as an increase in AMPKα1 activity in exercised skeletal muscle.

AMPK; AMPK alpha; Iron deficiency; Anemia; Energy metabolism; Skeletal muscle