Potent anti-proliferative effects of metformin on trastuzumab-resistant breast cancer cells via inhibition of erbB2/IGF-1 receptor interactions

Cell Cycle. 2011 Sep 1;10(17):2959-66. doi: 10.4161/cc.10.17.16359. Epub 2011 Sep 1.


We have shown that erbB2 altered breast cancer cells are less sensitive to the anti-proliferative effects of metformin than triple negative cells, and have described the differences of molecular mechanisms of metformin action by tumor subtypes. We hypothesized that metformin may be more effective against trastuzumab-resistant erbB2-overexpressing breast cancer cells because it targets the critical signaling pathways that are altered with resistance. BT474, SKBR3 and derived trastuzumab-resistant sublines BT474-HR20 (HR20) and SKBR3-pool2 (pool2) were used to test this hypothesis. Metformin treatment resulted in significantly more inhibition of proliferation and clonogenicity in resistant sublines. It decreased erbB2/insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor (IGF-1R) complexes (present only in the resistant sublines) without altering erbB2 expression, and reduced the expression and activity of erbB3 and IGF-1R in the trastuzumab-resistant but not parental cells. Trastuzumab-resistant sublines were resistant to rapamycin induced changes in mTOR activity and cell growth. In contrast, both BT474 and HR20 cells were highly sensitive to inhibitors of Src (Dasatinib) and PI-3K (LY294002). The pool2 cells showed higher sensitivity than SKBR3 cells to LY294002, but not Dasatinib. On the basis of these data, metformin appears to be significantly more effective against trastuzumab-resistant as compared to sensitive breast cancer cells. Metformin disrupts erbB2/IGF-1R complexes, erbB3 and IGF-1R expression and activity, as well as Src kinase and/or PI-3K/Akt signaling. This action appears to be independent of mTOR signaling. Our findings provide a rationale to study the effects of metformin on patients with erbB2 positive tumors treated with trastuzumab, with or without resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival
  • Chromones / pharmacology
  • Dasatinib
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Morpholines / pharmacology
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Phosphorylation
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Trastuzumab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Chromones
  • Morpholines
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrimidines
  • Thiazoles
  • 2-(4-morpholinyl)-8-phenyl-4H-1-benzopyran-4-one
  • Metformin
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Receptor, IGF Type 1
  • Trastuzumab
  • Dasatinib