Therapeutic metformin/AMPK activation promotes the angiogenic phenotype in the ERalpha negative MDA-MB-435 breast cancer model

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2009 Jan;113(1):101-11. doi: 10.1007/s10549-008-9916-5. Epub 2008 Feb 7.


Metformin, a first line treatment for type 2 diabetes, has been implicated as a potential anti-neoplastic agent for breast cancers as well as other cancers. Metformin is known to work in part through the activation of AMP-dependent kinase (AMPK). AMPK is a key regulator of cellular energy homeostasis, especially under stress conditions where biosynthetic pathways are blocked by the phosphorylation of downstream AMPK substrates. Stimulation of AMPK by metformin resulted in a significant repression of cell proliferation and active MAPK1/2 in both estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) negative (MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-435) and positive (MCF-7, T47D) human breast cancer cell lines. However, when ERalpha negative MDA-MB-435 cells were treated with metformin, they demonstrated increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in an AMPK dependent manner; while the ERalpha positive MCF-7 cells did not. Systemic therapy with metformin was tested for efficacy in an orthotopic model of ERalpha negative breast cancer performed in athymic nude mice. Surprisingly, metformin therapy significantly improved tumorigenic progression as compared to untreated controls. The metformin-treated group showed increased VEGF expression, intratumoral microvascular density and reduced necrosis. Metformin treatment was sufficient, however, to reduce systemic IGF-1 and the proliferation rate of tumor cells in vascularized regions. The data presented here suggests that, although metformin significantly represses breast cancer cell growth in vitro, the efficacy with respect to its therapeutic application for ERalpha negative breast cancer lesions in vivo may result in promotion of the angiogenic phenotype and increased tumorigenic progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenylate Kinase / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / deficiency
  • Female
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / chemically induced*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / genetics
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Metformin
  • Adenylate Kinase