Introduction: Insulin analogues are structurally modified molecules with altered pharmaco-kinetic and -dynamic properties compared to regular human insulin used by diabetic patients. While these compounds are tested for undesired mitogenic effects, an epidemiological discussion is ongoing regarding an association between insulin analogue therapy and increased cancer incidence, including breast cancer. Standard in vivo rodent carcinogenesis assays do not pick up this possible increased carcinogenic potential.
Methods: Here we studied the role of insulin analogues in breast cancer development. For this we used the human relevant mammary gland specific p53R270H/⁺WAPCre mouse model. Animals received life long repeated treatment with four different insulin (-like) molecules: normal insulin, insulin glargine, insulin X10 (AspB10) or insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1).
Results: Insulin-like molecules with strong mitogenic signaling, insulin X10 and IGF1, significantly decreased the time for tumor development. Yet, insulin glargine and normal insulin, did not significantly decrease the latency time for (mammary gland) tumor development. The majority of tumors had an epithelial to mesenchymal transition phenotype (EMT), irrespective of treatment condition. Enhanced extracellular signaling related kinase (Erk) or serine/threonine kinase (Akt) mitogenic signaling was in particular present in tumors from the insulin X10 and IGF1 treatment groups.
Conclusions: These data indicate that insulin-like molecules with enhanced mitogenic signaling increase the risk of breast cancer development. Moreover, the use of a tissue specific cancer model, like the p53R270H/⁺WAPCre mouse model, is relevant to assess the intrinsic pro-carcinogenic potential of mitogenic and non-mitogenic biologicals such as insulin analogues.