Evaluating the efficacy and mechanism of metformin targets on reducing Alzheimer's disease risk in the general population: a Mendelian randomisation study

Diabetologia. 2022 Oct;65(10):1664-1675. doi: 10.1007/s00125-022-05743-0. Epub 2022 Jul 29.


Aims/hypothesis: Metformin use has been associated with reduced incidence of dementia in diabetic individuals in observational studies. However, the causality between the two in the general population is unclear. This study uses Mendelian randomisation (MR) to investigate the causal effect of metformin targets on Alzheimer's disease and potential causal mechanisms in the brain linking the two.

Methods: Genetic proxies for the effects of metformin drug targets were identified as variants in the gene for the corresponding target that associated with HbA1c level (N=344,182) and expression level of the corresponding gene (N≤31,684). The cognitive outcomes were derived from genome-wide association studies comprising 527,138 middle-aged Europeans, including 71,880 with Alzheimer's disease or Alzheimer's disease-by-proxy. MR estimates representing lifelong metformin use on Alzheimer's disease and cognitive function in the general population were generated. Effect of expression level of 22 metformin-related genes in brain cortex (N=6601 donors) on Alzheimer's disease was further estimated.

Results: Genetically proxied metformin use, equivalent to a 6.75 mmol/mol (1.09%) reduction on HbA1c, was associated with 4% lower odds of Alzheimer's disease (OR 0.96 [95% CI 0.95, 0.98], p=1.06×10-4) in non-diabetic individuals. One metformin target, mitochondrial complex 1 (MCI), showed a robust effect on Alzheimer's disease (OR 0.88, p=4.73×10-4) that was independent of AMP-activated protein kinase. MR of expression in brain cortex tissue showed that decreased MCI-related gene (NDUFA2) expression was associated with lower Alzheimer's disease risk (OR 0.95, p=4.64×10-4) and favourable cognitive function.

Conclusions/interpretation: Metformin use may cause reduced Alzheimer's disease risk in the general population. Mitochondrial function and the NDUFA2 gene are plausible mechanisms of action in dementia protection.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Brain expression; Cognitive function; Dementia; Mendelian randomisation; Metformin targets; Mitochondrial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease* / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease* / epidemiology
  • Alzheimer Disease* / genetics
  • Brain
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Metformin* / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged


  • Metformin
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases