An intracellular modulation of free radical production could contribute to the beneficial effects of metformin towards oxidative stress

Metabolism. 2003 May;52(5):586-9. doi: 10.1053/meta.2003.50093.


Metformin (dimethylbiguanide) is an antihyperglycemic agent used in type 2 diabetes. Beyond its action on glycemic control, metformin exhibits other intrinsic effects that could play a role in prevention against diabetes complications. Some studies thus reported an improvement in the antioxidant status in patients treated with metformin. This might be in part related to its property to limit formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and to decrease the overproduction of free radicals in diabetic subjects. The aim of this study was to investigate the in vitro ability of metformin to modulate the action of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated either by water gamma radiolysis or by stimulated human leukocytes. Our results showed that metformin at pharmacologically relevant concentrations was in vitro able to scavenge hydroxyl ((.)OH) but not superoxide (O(.-)(2)) free radicals and that hydrogen peroxide did not react with metformin. Nevertheless, when polymorphonuclear cells (PMN) are stimulated by phorbol myristate acetate (PMA), or above all by formyl methionine leucyl phenylalanine (fMLP), a systematic (although nonsignificant) decrease of the ROS-induced chimiluminescence (CL) was observed. These results suggest that metformin could directly scavenge ROS or indirectly act by modulating the intracellular production of superoxide anion, of which NADPH oxidase constitutes the major source. This could contribute to the additional benefits of metformin, especially those related to the improvement in the cardiovascular outcomes in diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Free Radicals / radiation effects
  • Gamma Rays
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Leukocytes / drug effects
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine / pharmacology
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / pharmacology
  • Water


  • Free Radicals
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Water
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine
  • Metformin
  • NADPH Oxidases
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate