5′-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a metabolic fuel sensor that monitors cellular energy charge, while the vasculature is important for maintaining cellular energy homeostasis. Mice with muscle-specific inactive AMPK (AMPK DN) were used to investigate if AMPK regulates skeletal muscle capillarization and the angiogenic responses to exercise. Two hours of the AMP analogue AICAR (1.0 g kg−1) or systemic hypoxia (6% O2) increased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA in wild-type (WT), but not in AMPK DN mice. In contrast, the increase in VEGF mRNA with acute exercise (1 h at 20 m min−1, 10% gradient) was greater in AMPK DN compared to WT mice. Nuclear run-on assay demonstrated that exercise increased VEGF transcription, while hypoxia decreased VEGF transcription. There was no difference in VEGF transcription between WT and AMPK DN. There was a strong correlation between VEGF transcription and VEGF mRNA at rest and with exercise. Resting capillarization was lower in AMPK DN compared to WT. Wheel running (28 days) increased capillarization and this response was AMPK independent. Significant correlations between VEGF protein and muscle capillarization are consistent with VEGF being an important determinant of skeletal muscle capillarization. These data are to our knowledge the first to demonstrate in skeletal muscle in vivo that: (1) AMPK is necessary for hypoxia-induced VEGF mRNA stabilization, (2) acute exercise increases VEGF transcription, (3) inhibition of AMPK augments the VEGF mRNA response to acute exercise, and (4) AMPK regulates basal VEGF expression and capillarization, but is not necessary for exercise-induced angiogenesis
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