AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) is activated in response to metabolic stresses that deplete cellular ATP, and in both liver and skeletal muscle, activated AMPK stimulates fatty acid oxidation. To determine whether AMPK might reciprocally regulate glycerolipid synthesis, we studied liver and skeletal-muscle lipid metabolism in the presence of 5-amino-4-imidazolecarboxamide (AICA) riboside, a cell-permeable compound whose phosphorylated metabolite activates AMPK. Adding AICA riboside to cultured rat hepatocytes for 3 h decreased [14C]oleate and [3H]glycerol incorporation into triacylglycerol (TAG) by 50% and 38% respectively, and decreased oleate labelling of diacylglycerol by 60%. In isolated mouse soleus, a highly oxidative muscle, incubation with AICA riboside for 90 min decreased [14C]oleate incorporation into TAG by 37% and increased 14CO2 production by 48%. When insulin was present, [14C]oleate oxidation was 49% lower and [14C]oleate incorporation into TAG was 62% higher than under basal conditions. AICA riboside blocked insulin's antioxidative and lipogenic effects, increasing fatty acid oxidation by 78% and decreasing labelled TAG 43%. Similar results on fatty acid oxidation and acylglycerol synthesis were observed in C2C12 myoblasts, and in differentiated C2C12 myotubes, AICA riboside also inhibited the hydrolysis of intracellular TAG. These data suggest that AICA riboside might inhibit sn-glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase (GPAT), which catalyses the committed step in the pathway of glycerolipid biosynthesis. Incubating rat hepatocytes with AICA riboside for both 15 and 30 min decreased mitochondrial GPAT activity 22-34% without affecting microsomal GPAT, diacylglycerol acyltransferase or acyl-CoA synthetase activities. Finally, purified recombinant AMPKalpha1 and AMPKalpha2 inhibited hepatic mitochondrial GPAT in a time-and ATP-dependent manner. These data show that AMPK reciprocally regulates acyl-CoA channelling towards beta-oxidation and away from glycerolipid biosynthesis, and provide strong evidence that AMPK phosphorylates and inhibits mitochondrial GPAT.