Background: Metformin has been reported to reduce cardiovascular complications in diabetic patients. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of metformin on endothelial cells and the related molecular mechanisms.
Methods: Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) were used for the experiments. The effects of metformin on TNF-alpha-induced IL-6 production were investigated. Modulation of AMPK and related signal transduction pathways were also performed.
Results: TNF-alpha increased IL-6 secretion by HUVEC in a dose-dependent manner but inhibitors of NF-kappaB abolished the TNF-alpha-induced IL-6 production. Pre-treatment with metformin (100-1000 micromol/L) also inhibited TNF-alpha-induced IL-6 production, phosphorylation of IkappaB kinase (IKK) alpha/beta and IkappaB-alpha degradation. Metformin increased phosphorylation of AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) but wortmannin, a PI3K inhibitor, negated its effects on AMPK phosphorylation and TNF-alpha-induced IkappaB-alpha degradation. AICAR, a direct AMPK activator, had inhibitory effects on TNF-alpha-induced IL-6 production, similar to that of metformin. Transfection of siRNA against alpha1-AMPK eradicated the inhibitory effects of metformin on TNF-alpha-induced IL-6, implying the essential role of AMPK.
Conclusions: Metformin had anti-inflammatory effects on endothelial cells and inhibited TNF-alpha-induced IKKalpha/beta phosphorylation, IkappaB-alpha degradation and IL-6 production in HUVEC. This effect was related to PI3K-dependent AMPK phosphorylation.