Metformin and rapamycin have distinct effects on the AKT pathway and proliferation in breast cancer cells

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2010 Aug;123(1):271-9. doi: 10.1007/s10549-010-0763-9. Epub 2010 Feb 5.


Rapamycin and its analogues inhibit mTOR, which leads to decreased protein synthesis and decreased cancer cell proliferation in many experimental systems. Adenosine 5'- monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activators such as metformin have similar actions, in keeping with the TSC2/1 pathway linking activation of AMPK to inhibition of mTOR. As mTOR inhibition by rapamycin is associated with attenuation of negative feedback to IRS-1, rapamycin is known to increase activation of AKT, which may reduce its anti-neoplastic activity. We observed that metformin exposure decreases AKT activation, an action opposite to that of rapamycin. We show that metformin (but not rapamycin) exposure leads to increased phosphorylation of IRS-1 at Ser(789), a site previously reported to inhibit downstream signaling and to be an AMPK substrate phosphorylated under conditions of cellular energy depletion. siRNA methods confirmed that reduction of AMPK levels attenuates both the IRS-1 Ser(789) phosphorylation and the inhibition of AKT activation associated with metformin exposure. Although both rapamycin and metformin inhibit mTOR (the former directly and the latter through AMPK signaling), our results demonstrate previously unrecognized differences between these agents. The data are consistent with the observation that maximal induction of apoptosis and inhibition of proliferation are greater for metformin than rapamycin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Separation
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / drug effects
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / drug effects
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / drug effects*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Transfection


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Metformin
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Sirolimus