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Life Extension Magazine February 2012


Metformin: taking away the candy for cancer?

Metformin is widely used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus type 2 where it reduces insulin resistance and diabetes-related morbidity and mortality. Population-based studies show that metformin treatment is associated with a dose-dependent reduction in cancer risk. The metformin treatment also increases complete pathological tumour response rates following neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer, suggesting a potential role as an anti-cancer drug. Diabetes mellitus type 2 is associated with insulin resistance, elevated insulin levels and an increased risk of cancer and cancer-related mortality. This increased risk may be explained by activation of the insulin- and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signalling pathways and increased signalling through the oestrogen receptor. Reversal of these processes through reduction of insulin resistance by the oral anti-diabetic drug metformin is an attractive anti-cancer strategy. Metformin is an activator of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) which inhibits protein synthesis and gluconeogenesis during cellular stress. The main downstream effect of AMPK activation is the inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a downstream effector of growth factor signalling. mTOR is frequently activated in malignant cells and is associated with resistance to anticancer drugs. Furthermore, metformin can induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis and can reduce growth factor signalling. This review discusses the role of diabetes mellitus type 2 and insulin resistance in carcinogenesis, the preclinical rationale and potential mechanisms of metformin’s anti-cancer effect and the current and future clinical developments of metformin as a novel anti-cancer drug.

Eur J Cancer. 2010 Sep;46(13):2369-80

Is it time to test metformin in breast cancer clinical trials?

Several studies have identified an increased risk of cancer in type 2 diabetic patients and this is in accordance with the hypothesis that increased insulin levels might promote cancer. Thus, there is a great interest in exploring the possibility that antidiabetic therapies lowering insulin levels could decrease cancer incidence or cancer-related mortality. Recent observational studies have shown that metformin, an oral safe and well-tolerated insulin-sensitizer antidiabetic drug, has been associated with reduced cancer risk. Recently, several preclinical studies have evaluated the effect of metformin in vivo on nude mice and showed a significant reduction of both breast epithelial cell proliferation and protein synthesis. Further investigations in the clinical setting are well-supported by the promising results obtained thus far. At the European Institute of Oncology, the Division of Cancer Prevention and Genetics is planning to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate the activity of metformin on tumor cell proliferation in breast cancer patients undergoing surgery. It will be a presurgical randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled phase II biomarker trial: 100 histologically confirmed breast cancer patients will be randomly assigned to metformin (850 mg twice/daily) or placebo for 28+7 days till surgery to assess drug activity on tumor proliferation, as measured by Ki-67. The confirmation of the efficacy of metformin on cancer cell proliferation may lead the way to larger chemoprevention clinical trials.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Mar;18(3):701-5

Repositioning chloroquine and metformin to eliminate cancer stem cell traits in pre-malignant lesions.

Ideal oncology drugs would be curative after a short treatment course if they could eliminate epithelium-originated carcinomas at their non-invasive, pre-malignant stages. Such ideal molecules, which are expected to molecularly abrogate all the instrumental mechanisms acquired by migrating cancer stem cells (CSCs) to by-pass tumour suppressor barriers, might already exist. We here illustrate how system biology strategies for repositioning existing FDA-approved drugs may accelerate our therapeutic capacity to eliminate CSC traits in pre-invasive intraepithelial neoplasias. First, we describe a signalling network signature that overrides bioenergetics stress- and oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) phenomena in CSCs residing at pre-invasive lesions. Second, we functionally map the anti-malarial chloroquine and the anti-diabetic metformin (“old drugs”) to their recently recognized CSC targets (“new uses”) within the network. By discussing the preclinical efficacy of chloroquine and metformin to inhibiting the genesis and self-renewal of CSCs we finally underscore the expected translational impact of the “old drugs-new uses” repurposing strategy to open a new CSC-targeted chemoprevention era.

Drug Resist Updat. 2011 Aug-Oct;14(4-5): 212-23

Targeting cancer cell metabolism: the combination of metformin and 2-deoxyglucose induces p53-dependent apoptosis in prostate cancer cells.

Targeting cancer cell metabolism is a new promising strategy to fight cancer. Metformin, a widely used antidiabetic agent, exerts antitumoral and antiproliferative action. In this study, the addition of metformin to 2-deoxyglucose (2DG) inhibited mitochondrial respiration and glycolysis in prostate cancer cells leading to a severe depletion in ATP. The combination of the two drugs was much more harmful for cancer cells than the treatment with metformin or 2DG alone, leading to 96% inhibition of cell viability in LNCaP prostate cancer cells. In contrast, a moderate effect on cell viability was observed in normal prostate epithelial cells. At the cellular level, the combination of metformin and 2DG induced p53-dependent apoptosis via the energy sensor pathway AMP kinase, and the reexpression of a functional p53 in p53-deficient prostate cancer cells restored caspase-3 activity. In addition to apoptosis, the combination of metformin and 2DG arrested prostate cancer cells in G(2)-M. This G(2)-M arrest was independent of p53 and correlated with a stronger decrease in cell viability than obtained with either drug. Finally, metformin inhibited 2DG-induced autophagy, decreased beclin 1 expression, and triggered a switch from a survival process to cell death. Our study reinforces the growing interest of metabolic perturbators in cancer therapy and highlights the potential use of the combination of metformin and 2DG as an anticancerous treatment.

Cancer Res. 2010 Mar 15;70(6):2465-75

Dual antiglioma action of metformin: cell cycle arrest and mitochondria-dependent apoptosis.

The present study reports for the first time a dual antiglioma effect of the well-known antidiabetic drug metformin. In low-density cultures of the C6 rat glioma cell line, metformin blocked the cell cycle progression in G(0)/G(1) phase without inducing significant cell death. In confluent C6 cultures, on the other hand, metformin caused massive induction of caspase-dependent apoptosis associated with c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activation, mitochondrial depolarization and oxidative stress. Metformin-triggered apoptosis was completely prevented by agents that block mitochondrial permeability transition (cyclosporin A) and oxygen radical production (N-acetylcisteine), while the inhibitors of JNK activation (SP600125) or glycolysis (sodium fluoride, iodoacetate) provided partial protection. The antiglioma effect of metformin was reduced by compound C, an inhibitor of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), and was mimicked by the AMPK agonist AICAR. Similar effects were observed in the human glioma cell line U251, while rat primary astrocytes were completely resistant to the antiproliferative and proapoptotic action of metformin.

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2007 May;64(10):1290-302

The antidiabetic drug metformin exerts an antitumoral effect in vitro and in vivo through a decrease of cyclin D1 level.

Metformin is a widely used antidiabetic agent, which regulates glucose homeostasis through inhibition of liver glucose production and an increase in muscle glucose uptake. Recent studies suggest that metformin may reduce the risk of cancer, but its mode of action in cancer remains not elucidated. We investigated the effect of metformin on human prostate cancer cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo. Metformin inhibited the proliferation of DU145, PC-3 and LNCaP cancer cells with a 50% decrease of cell viability and had a modest effect on normal prostate epithelial cell line P69. Metformin did not induce apoptosis but blocked cell cycle in G(0)/G(1). This blockade was accompanied by a strong decrease of cyclin D1 protein level, pRb phosphorylation and an increase in p27(kip) protein expression. Metformin activated the AMP kinase pathway, a fuel sensor signaling pathway. However, inhibition of the AMPK pathway using siRNA against the two catalytic subunits of AMPK did not prevent the antiproliferative effect of metformin in prostate cancer cells. Importantly, oral and intraperitoneal treatment with metformin led to a 50 and 35% reduction of tumor growth, respectively, in mice bearing xenografts of LNCaP. Similar, to the in vitro study, metformin led to a strong reduction of cyclin D1 protein level in tumors providing evidence for a mechanism that may contribute to the antineoplastic effects of metformin suggested by recent epidemiological studies.

Oncogene. 2008 Jun 5;27(25):3576-86

Metformin attenuates ovarian cancer cell growth in an AMP-kinase dispensable manner.

Metformin, the most widely used drug for type 2 diabetes activates 59 adenosine monophosphate (AMP)-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which regulates cellular energy metabolism. Here, we report that ovarian cell lines VOSE, A2780, CP70, C200, OV202, OVCAR3, SKOV3ip, PE01 and PE04 predominantly express -a(1), -b(1), -g(1) and -g(2) isoforms of AMPK subunits. Our studies show that metformin treatment (1) significantly inhibited proliferation of diverse chemo-responsive and -resistant ovarian cancer cell lines (A2780, CP70, C200, OV202, OVCAR3, SKVO3ip, PE01 and PE04), (2) caused cell cycle arrest accompanied by decreased cyclin D1 and increased p21 protein expression, (3) activated AMPK in various ovarian cancer cell lines as evident from increased phosphorylation of AMPKa and its downstream substrate; acetyl co-carboxylase (ACC) and enhanced b-oxidation of fatty acid and (4) attenuated mTOR-S6RP phosphorylation, inhibited protein translational and lipid biosynthetic pathways, thus implicating metformin as a growth inhibitor of ovarian cancer cells. We also show that metformin-mediated effect on AMPK is dependent on liver kinase B1 (LKB1) as it failed to activate AMPK-ACC pathway and cell cycle arrest in LKB1 null mouse embryo fibroblasts (mefs). This observation was further supported by using siRNA approach to down-regulate LKB1 in ovarian cancer cells. In contrast, met formin inhibited cell proliferation in both wild-type and AMPKa(1/2) null mefs as well as in AMPK silenced ovarian cancer cells. Collectively, these results provide evidence on the role of metformin as an anti-proliferative therapeutic that can act through both AMPK-dependent as well as AMPK-independent pathways.

J Cell Mol Med. 2011 Jan;15(1):166-78

Metformin inhibits melanoma development through autophagy and apoptosis mechanisms.

Metformin is the most widely used antidiabetic drug because of its proven efficacy and limited secondary effects. Interestingly, recent studies have reported that metformin can block the growth of different tumor types. Here, we show that metformin exerts antiproliferative effects on melanoma cells, whereas normal human melanocytes are resistant to these metformin-induced effects. To better understand the basis of this antiproliferative effect of metformin in melanoma, we characterized the sequence of events underlying metformin action. We showed that 24 h metformin treatment induced a cell cycle arrest in G0/G1 phases, while after 72 h, melanoma cells underwent autophagy as demonstrated by electron microscopy, immunochemistry, and by quantification of the autolysosome-associated LC3 and Beclin1 proteins. In addition, 96 h post metformin treatment we observed robust apoptosis of melanoma cells. Interestingly, inhibition of autophagy by knocking down LC3 or ATG5 decreased the extent of apoptosis, and suppressed the antiproliferative effect of metformin on melanoma cells, suggesting that apoptosis is a consequence of autophagy. The relevance of these observations were confirmed in vivo, as we showed that metformin treatment impaired the melanoma tumor growth in mice, and induced autophagy and apoptosis markers. Taken together, our data suggest that metformin has an important impact on melanoma growth, and may therefore be beneficial in patients with melanoma.

Cell Death Dis. 2011 Sep 1;2:e199

Metformin promotes progesterone receptor expression via inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in endometrial cancer cells.

Progesterone has been used in the hormonal treatment of endometrial cancer (EC) for many years, but the response rates are unsatisfying. The down-regulated progesterone receptor (PR) is the main reason for treatment failure. The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system is related to EC risk, and IGF-I can inhibit PR transcription in breast cancer. Recent evidence suggests that metformin-combined oral contraceptives may reverse progesterone-resistant atypical endometrial hyperplasia, but the mechanism is unclear. We attempt to investigate the interaction of metformin, PR and IGF-II expression, and identify whether metformin can enhance the antitumor effect of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) using Ishikawa and HEC-1B EC cell lines. We found that both IGF-I and IGF-II inhibit PR A/B mRNA and protein expression, whereas metformin markedly promotes PR expression. In parallel, IGF-II increases phosphorylation of AKT and p70S6K, while metformin increases AMPK phosphorylation and decreases p70S6K phosphorylation. The effects of metformin on PR A/B and p70S6K are partially reversed by an AMPK inhibitor. Furthermore, metformin synergistically antiproliferates MPA in two cell lines, with the peak synergy occurring with 10μM metformin combined with 1μM MPA (CI=0.20448 for Ishikawa, CI=0.12801 for HEC-1B). Our results demonstrate that metformin promotes PR expression, which can be inhibited by overexpressed IGF-II in EC. This effect is partially mediated through activating AMPK followed by inhibiting the overactivated mTOR pathway.

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Sep;126


Metformin, independent of AMPK, induces mTOR inhibition and cell-cycle arrest through REDD1.

Metformin is a widely prescribed antidiabetic drug associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Many studies show that metformin inhibits cancer cell viability through the inhibition of mTOR. We recently showed that antiproliferative action of metformin in prostate cancer cell lines is not mediated by AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). We identified REDD1 (also known as DDIT4 and RTP801), a negative regulator of mTOR, as a new molecular target of metformin. We show that metformin increases REDD1 expression in a p53-dependent manner. REDD1 invalidation, using siRNA or REDD1(-/-) cells, abrogates metformin inhibition of mTOR. Importantly, inhibition of REDD1 reverses metformin-induced cell-cycle arrest and significantly protects from the deleterious effects of metformin on cell transformation. Finally, we show the contribution of p53 in mediating metformin action in prostate cancer cells. These results highlight the p53/REDD1 axis as a new molecular target in anticancer therapy in response to metformin treatment.

Cancer Res. 2011 Jul 1;71(13):4366-72