Metformin Inhibits Intracranial Aneurysm Formation and Progression by Regulating Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Phenotype Switching via the AMPK/ACC Pathway

J Neuroinflammation. 2020 Jun 16;17(1):191. doi: 10.1186/s12974-020-01868-4.


Background: The regulation of vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) phenotype plays an important role in intracranial aneurysm (IA) formation and progression. However, the underlying mechanism remains unclear. Metformin is a 5' AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) agonist that has a protective effect on vasculature. The present study investigated whether metformin modulates VSMC phenotype switching via the AMPK/acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) pathway during IA pathogenesis.

Methods: Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 80) were used to establish an elastase-induced IA model. The effects of metformin on AMPK activation and VSMC phenotype modulation were examined. We also established a platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-BB-induced VSMC model and analyzed changes in phenotype including proliferation, migration, and apoptosis as well as AMPK/ACC axis activation under different doses of metformin, AMPK antagonist, ACC antagonist, and their combinations.

Results: Metformin decreased the incidence and rupture rate of IA in the rat model and induced a switch in VSMC phenotype from contractile to synthetic through activation of the AMPK/ACC pathway, as evidenced by upregulation of VSMC-specific genes and decreased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. AMPK/ACC axis activation inhibited the proliferation, migration, and apoptosis of VSMCs, in which phenotypic switching was induced by PDGF-BB.

Conclusions: Metformin protects against IA formation and rupture by inhibiting VSMC phenotype switching and proliferation, migration, and apoptosis. Thus, metformin has therapeutic potential for the prevention of IA.

Keywords: AMPK; Intracranial aneurysm; Metformin; Phenotype modulation; Vascular smooth muscle cell.