Low dose chloroquine decreases insulin resistance in human metabolic syndrome but does not reduce carotid intima-media thickness

Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2019 Jul 29:11:61. doi: 10.1186/s13098-019-0456-4. eCollection 2019.


Background: Metabolic syndrome, an obesity-related condition associated with insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation, leads to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoarthritis, and other disorders. Optimal therapy is unknown. The antimalarial drug chloroquine activates the kinase ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM), improves metabolic syndrome and reduces atherosclerosis in mice. To translate this observation to humans, we conducted two clinical trials of chloroquine in people with the metabolic syndrome.

Methods: Eligibility included adults with at least 3 criteria of metabolic syndrome but who did not have diabetes. Subjects were studied in the setting of a single academic health center. The specific hypothesis: chloroquine improves insulin sensitivity and decreases atherosclerosis. In Trial 1, the intervention was chloroquine dose escalations in 3-week intervals followed by hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamps. Trial 2 was a parallel design randomized clinical trial, and the intervention was chloroquine, 80 mg/day, or placebo for 1 year. The primary outcomes were clamp determined-insulin sensitivity for Trial 1, and carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) for Trial 2. For Trial 2, subjects were allocated based on a randomization sequence using a protocol in blocks of 8. Participants, care givers, and those assessing outcomes were blinded to group assignment.

Results: For Trial 1, 25 patients were studied. Chloroquine increased hepatic insulin sensitivity without affecting glucose disposal, and improved serum lipids. For Trial 2, 116 patients were randomized, 59 to chloroquine (56 analyzed) and 57 to placebo (51 analyzed). Chloroquine had no effect on CIMT or carotid contrast enhancement by MRI, a pre-specified secondary outcome. The pre-specified secondary outcomes of blood pressure, lipids, and activation of JNK (a stress kinase implicated in diabetes and atherosclerosis) were decreased by chloroquine. Adverse events were similar between groups.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that low dose chloroquine, which improves the metabolic syndrome through ATM-dependent mechanisms in mice, modestly improves components of the metabolic syndrome in humans but is unlikely to be clinically useful in this setting.Trial registration ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT00455325, NCT00455403), both posted 03 April 2007.

Keywords: Atheroma; Blood pressure; Carotid intima-media thickness; Chloroquine; Glucose disposal; Insulin sensitivity; JNK; Lipids; Metabolic syndrome.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00455325
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00455403