Metformin prevents airway hyperreactivity in rats with dietary obesity

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2021 Dec 1;321(6):L1105-L1118. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00202.2021. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


Increased insulin is associated with obesity-related airway hyperreactivity and asthma. We tested whether the use of metformin, an antidiabetic drug used to reduce insulin resistance, can reduce circulating insulin, thereby preventing airway hyperreactivity in rats with dietary obesity. Male and female rats were fed a high- or low-fat diet for 5 wk. Some male rats were simultaneously treated with metformin (100 mg/kg orally). In separate experiments, after 5 wk of a high-fat diet, some rats were switched to a low-fat diet, whereas others continued a high-fat diet for an additional 5 wk. Bronchoconstriction and bradycardia in response to bilateral electrical vagus nerve stimulation or to inhaled methacholine were measured in anesthetized and vagotomized rats. Body weight, body fat, caloric intake, fasting glucose, and insulin were measured. Vagally induced bronchoconstriction was potentiated only in male rats on a high-fat diet. Males gained more body weight, body fat, and had increased levels of fasting insulin compared with females. Metformin prevented development of vagally induced airway hyperreactivity in male rats on high-fat diet, in addition to inhibiting weight gain, fat gain, and increased insulin. In contrast, switching rats to a low-fat diet for 5 wk reduced body weight and body fat, but it did not reverse fasting glucose, fasting insulin, or potentiation of vagally induced airway hyperreactivity. These data suggest that medications that target insulin may be effective treatment for obesity-related asthma.

Keywords: airway hyperreactivity; asthma; insulin; metformin; obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / chemically induced
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / drug therapy*
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / metabolism
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / pathology
  • Bronchoconstriction*
  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents / toxicity
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Hyperinsulinism / etiology
  • Hyperinsulinism / metabolism
  • Hyperinsulinism / pathology
  • Hyperinsulinism / prevention & control*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Metformin / pharmacology*
  • Methacholine Chloride / toxicity
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Vagus Nerve / drug effects
  • Weight Gain


  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Metformin
  • Glucose