Metformin: an old medication of new fashion: evolving new molecular mechanisms and clinical implications in polycystic ovary syndrome

Eur J Endocrinol. 2010 Feb;162(2):193-212. doi: 10.1530/EJE-09-0733. Epub 2009 Oct 19.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is now recognized to be the most common endocrinopathy in women of reproductive age with a prevalence of 6.6-6.8%. PCOS, a syndrome of unknown etiology, was initially regarded as a reproductive disorder. However, in the last 15 years the role of insulin resistance (IR) has been identified as a significant contributor to the pathogenesis of PCOS, and the metabolic and cardiovascular sequelae of the syndrome have been increasingly appreciated. The coexistence and interaction of reproductive and cardiometabolic abnormalities in the context of PCOS have created a need for a modified therapeutic management of affected women. Insulin sensitizers, particularly metformin, have been introduced as a pharmaceutical option targeting not only IR, but several other aspects of the syndrome, including reproductive abnormalities. The landscape of the multifaceted actions of metformin evolves to broaden the therapeutic implications of this old drug in a new fashion for patients with PCOS. Most recently, the spectrum of metformin's targets has been expanded, and molecular studies have explored the tissue-specific mechanisms of metformin in the liver, the muscle, the endothelium, and the ovary. The use of metformin in pregnant women with PCOS comprises another scarcely explored, but promising area of research. This review attempts to cover the spectrum of metformin's cellular actions in different tissues and to summarize the current literature regarding the potential medical value of this medication in PCOS. Even if many of these actions are individually modest, they seem to be collectively sufficient to confer therapeutic benefits not only in cardiometabolic aspects but also in reproductive aspects of PCOS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Infertility, Female / drug therapy*
  • Infertility, Female / physiopathology*
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin