Idebenone is a cytoprotective insulin sensitizer whose mechanism is Shc inhibition

Pharmacol Res. 2018 Nov;137:89-103. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.09.024. Epub 2018 Oct 2.


When insulin binds insulin receptor, IRS1 signaling is stimulated to trigger the maximal insulin response. p52Shc protein competes directly with IRS1, thus damping and diverting maximal insulin response. Genetic reduction of p52Shc minimizes competition with IRS1, and improves insulin signaling and glucose control in mice, and improves pathophysiological consequences of hyperglycemia. Given the multiple benefits of Shc reduction in vivo, we investigated whether any of 1680 drugs used in humans may function as Shc inhibitors, and thus potentially serve as novel anti-diabetics. Of the 1680, 30 insulin sensitizers were identified by screening in vitro, and of these 30 we demonstrated that 7 bound Shc protein. Of the 7 drugs, idebenone dose-dependently bound Shc protein in the 50-100 nM range, and induced insulin sensitivity and cytoprotection in this same 100 nM range that clinically dosed idebenone reaches in human plasma. By contrast we observe mitochondrial effects of idebenone in the 5,000 nM range that are not reached in human dosing. Multiple assays of target engagement demonstrate that idebenone physically interacts with Shc protein. Idebenone sensitizes mice to insulin in two different mouse models of prediabetes. Genetic depletion of idebenone's target eliminates idebenone's ability to insulin-sensitize in vivo. Thus, idebenone is the first-in-class member of a novel category of insulin-sensitizing and cytoprotective agents, the Shc inhibitors. Idebenone is an approved drug and could be considered for other indications such as type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, in which insulin resistance occurs.

Keywords: 17a-Hydroxyprogesterone (PubChem CID: 6238); BI78D3 (PubChem CID: 2747117); Drug discovery; FPA 124 (PubChem CID: 16034833); Idebenone (PubChem CID: 3686); PQ401 (PubChem CID: 9549305); Shc; Src I1 (PubChem CID: 1474853); acarbose (PubChem CID: 41774); candesartan cilexetil (PubChem CID: 2540); idebenone; insulin sensitivity; metabolic syndrome; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cytoprotection
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Female
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Src Homology 2 Domain-Containing, Transforming Protein 1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Src Homology 2 Domain-Containing, Transforming Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Ubiquinone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Ubiquinone / pharmacology


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • SHC1 protein, human
  • Src Homology 2 Domain-Containing, Transforming Protein 1
  • Ubiquinone
  • Receptor, Insulin
  • idebenone