Immune-mediated anti-tumor effects of metformin; targeting metabolic reprogramming of T cells as a new possible mechanism for anti-cancer effects of metformin

Biochem Pharmacol. 2020 Apr;174:113787. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.113787. Epub 2019 Dec 27.


Immunotherapy-based cancer treatment has revolutionized the era of cancer patients recuperation and it has brought a strong hope to treatment of some types of cancers. Metformin, a widely used antidiabetic drug, which has intensely been studied for its anticancer effects, is believed to have positive influences on immune responses against tumor cells. Metformin can affect metabolic pathways within cells mainly through activation of AMPK. Metabolic restriction of tumor microenvironment on effector immune cells is one of the important strategies favoring tumor cells to escape from immunogenic cell death. The metabolism of T cells has an axial role in shaping and supporting immune responses and may have an important role in anticancer immunity, suggesting that the functionality and durability of tumor-specific T cells need sufficient energy and nutrients. Energy biogenesis of tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells has become an interesting field of study and it is suggested that activation and maintenance of effector T cell responses in tumor microenvironment may occur by metabolic reprogramming of T cells. AMPK has been noticed as the main intracellular energy sensor and mitochondrial biogenesis key regulator which can control and regulate metabolic reprogramming in immune cells and increase antitumor immunity. Metabolic reprogramming of T cells to overcome metabolic restriction in tumor microenvironment, maiming effector T cell responses against tumor cells, has been noticed by several studies. Here we represent metformin, an AMPK activator, as a new candidate drug for metabolic reprogramming of tumor-specific T cells to increase the efficacy and accountability of cancer immunotherapy.

Keywords: AMPK; Immunotherapy; Metabolic reprogramming of effector T cells; Metformin; Tumor cells metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Metformin
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases