Metformin enhances the radiosensitizing effect of cisplatin in non-small cell lung cancer cell lines with different cisplatin sensitivities

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 4;9(1):1282. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-38004-5.


Cisplatin is an extensively used chemotherapeutic drug for lung cancer, but the development of resistance decreases its effectiveness in the treatments of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we examined the effects of metformin, a widely used antidiabetic drug, on cisplatin radiosensitization in NSCLC cell lines. Human NSCLC cell lines, A549 (cisplatin-resistant) and H460 (cisplatin-sensitive), were treated with metformin, cisplatin or a combination of both drugs before ionizing radiation. Cell proliferation, clonogenic assays, western blotting, cisplatin-DNA adduct formation and immunocytochemistry were used to characterize the treatments effects. Metformin increased the radiosensitivity of NSCLC cells. Metformin showed additive and over-additive effects in combination with cisplatin and the radiation response in the clonogenic assay in H460 and A549 cell lines (p = 0.018 for the interaction effect between cisplatin and metformin), respectively. At the molecular level, metformin led to a significant increase in cisplatin-DNA adduct formation compared with cisplatin alone (p < 0.01, ANOVA-F test). This was accompanied by a decreased expression of the excision repair cross-complementation 1 expression (ERCC1), a key enzyme in nucleotide excision repair pathway. Furthermore, compared with each treatment alone metformin in combination with cisplatin yielded the lowest level of radiation-induced Rad51 foci, an essential protein of homologous recombination repair. Ionizing radiation-induced γ-H2AX and 53BP1 foci persisted longer in both cell lines in the presence of metformin. Pharmacological inhibition of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) demonstrated that metformin enhances the radiosensitizing effect of cisplatin through an AMPK-dependent pathway only in H460 but not in A549 cells. Our results suggest that metformin can enhance the effect of combined cisplatin and radiotherapy in NSCLC and can sensitize these cells to radiation that are not sensitized by cisplatin alone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / radiotherapy
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic* / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic* / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*


  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Metformin
  • Cisplatin