Metformin and simvastatin exert additive antitumour effects in glioblastoma via senescence-state: clinical and translational evidence

EBioMedicine. 2023 Mar 10;90:104484. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104484. Online ahead of print.


Background: Glioblastoma is one of the most devastating and incurable cancers due to its aggressive behaviour and lack of available therapies, being its overall-survival from diagnosis ∼14-months. Thus, identification of new therapeutic tools is urgently needed. Interestingly, metabolism-related drugs (e.g., metformin/statins) are emerging as efficient antitumour agents for several cancers. Herein, we evaluated the in vitro/in vivo effects of metformin and/or statins on key clinical/functional/molecular/signalling parameters in glioblastoma patients/cells.

Methods: An exploratory-observational-randomized retrospective glioblastoma patient cohort (n = 85), human glioblastoma/non-tumour brain human cells (cell lines/patient-derived cell cultures), mouse astrocytes progenitor cell cultures, and a preclinical xenograft glioblastoma mouse model were used to measure key functional parameters, signalling-pathways and/or antitumour progression in response to metformin and/or simvastatin.

Findings: Metformin and simvastatin exerted strong antitumour actions in glioblastoma cell cultures (i.e., proliferation/migration/tumoursphere/colony-formation/VEGF-secretion inhibition and apoptosis/senescence induction). Notably, their combination additively altered these functional parameters vs. individual treatments. These actions were mediated by the modulation of key oncogenic signalling-pathways (i.e., AKT/JAK-STAT/NF-κB/TGFβ-pathways). Interestingly, an enrichment analysis uncovered a TGFβ-pathway activation, together with AKT inactivation, in response to metformin + simvastatin combination, which might be linked to an induction of the senescence-state, the associated secretory-phenotype, and to the dysregulation of spliceosome components. Remarkably, the antitumour actions of metformin + simvastatin combination were also observed in vivo [i.e., association with longer overall-survival in human, and reduction in tumour-progression in a mouse model (reduced tumour-size/weight/mitosis-number, and increased apoptosis)].

Interpretation: Altogether, metformin and simvastatin reduce aggressiveness features in glioblastomas, being this effect significantly more effective (in vitro/in vivo) when both drugs are combined, offering a clinically relevant opportunity that should be tested for their use in humans.

Funding: Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities; Junta de Andalucía; CIBERobn (CIBER is an initiative of Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality).

Keywords: Glioblastoma; Metformin; Senescence; Simvastatin; Splicing; Telomere.