Metformin-mediated increase in DICER1 regulates microRNA expression and cellular senescence

Aging Cell. 2016 Jun;15(3):572-81. doi: 10.1111/acel.12469. Epub 2016 Mar 17.


Metformin, an oral hypoglycemic agent, has been used for decades to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus. Recent studies indicate that mice treated with metformin live longer and have fewer manifestations of age-related chronic disease. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this phenotype are unknown. Here, we show that metformin treatment increases the levels of the microRNA-processing protein DICER1 in mice and in humans with diabetes mellitus. Our results indicate that metformin upregulates DICER1 through a post-transcriptional mechanism involving the RNA-binding protein AUF1. Treatment with metformin altered the subcellular localization of AUF1, disrupting its interaction with DICER1 mRNA and rendering DICER1 mRNA stable, allowing DICER1 to accumulate. Consistent with the role of DICER1 in the biogenesis of microRNAs, we found differential patterns of microRNA expression in mice treated with metformin or caloric restriction, two proven life-extending interventions. Interestingly, several microRNAs previously associated with senescence and aging, including miR-20a, miR-34a, miR-130a, miR-106b, miR-125, and let-7c, were found elevated. In agreement with these findings, treatment with metformin decreased cellular senescence in several senescence models in a DICER1-dependent manner. Metformin lowered p16 and p21 protein levels and the abundance of inflammatory cytokines and oncogenes that are hallmarks of the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). These data lead us to hypothesize that changes in DICER1 levels may be important for organismal aging and to propose that interventions that upregulate DICER1 expression (e.g., metformin) may offer new pharmacotherapeutic approaches for age-related disease.

Keywords: AUF1; RNA-binding proteins; aging; caloric restriction; diabetes mellitus; microRNA.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / genetics
  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / genetics*
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / metabolism
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Heterogeneous Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein D0
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein D / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Ribonuclease III / genetics*
  • Ribonuclease III / metabolism


  • HNRNPD protein, human
  • Heterogeneous Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein D0
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein D
  • Hnrpd protein, mouse
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Metformin
  • DICER1 protein, human
  • Ribonuclease III
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases

Associated data

  • GENBANK/GSE40936
  • GENBANK/GSE73393