Introduction: AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a heterotrimeric protein complex with serine/threonine kinase activity has a central role in controlling cellular energy expenditure. Small molecule-based activation of AMPK represents an attractive therapeutic proposition because of AMPK's ability to regulate several anabolic and catabolic pathways that are critical to the development of metabolic disorders and cancer. Areas covered: A comprehensive review of published patents that disclose direct AMPK activators is provided: 26 patents comprising 10 chemical classes, and supporting in vitro and in vivo data are discussed. Expert opinion: AMPK activation holds promise as a possible pharmacological intervention in several disease states. The development of direct, highly specific AMPK activators is necessary to fully realize the opportunities linked to AMPK activation and appreciate the risks associated with it.
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