Metformin exerts antitumor activity via induction of multiple death pathways in tumor cells and activation of a protective immune response

Oncotarget. 2018 May 25;9(40):25808-25825. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.25380.


The antitumor effect of metformin has been demonstrated in several types of cancer; however, the mechanisms involved are incompletely understood. In this study, we showed that metformin acts directly on melanoma cells as well as on the tumor microenvironment, particularly in the context of the immune response. In vitro, metformin induces a complex interplay between apoptosis and autophagy in melanoma cells. The anti-metastatic activity of metformin in vivo was assessed in several mouse models challenged with B16F10 cells. Metformin's activity was, in part, immune system-dependent, whereas its antitumor properties were abrogated in immunodeficient (NSG) mice. Metformin treatment increased the number of lung CD8-effector-memory T and CD4+Foxp3+IL-10+ T cells in B16F10-transplanted mice. It also decreased the levels of Gr-1+CD11b+ and RORγ+ IL17+CD4+ cells in B16F10-injected mice and the anti-metastatic effect was impaired in RAG-1-/- mice challenged with B16F10 cells, suggesting an important role for T cells in the protection induced by metformin. Finally, metformin in combination with the clinical metabolic agents rapamycin and sitagliptin showed a higher antitumor effect. The metformin/sitagliptin combination was effective in a BRAFV600E/PTEN tamoxifen-inducible murine melanoma model. Taken together, these results suggest that metformin has a pronounced effect on melanoma cells, including the induction of a strong protective immune response in the tumor microenvironment, leading to tumor growth control, and the combination with other metabolic agents may increase this effect.

Keywords: T cells; cell death; metformin; sitagliptin; tumor immunity.