A druggable copper-signalling pathway that drives inflammation

Nature. 2023 May;617(7960):386-394. doi: 10.1038/s41586-023-06017-4. Epub 2023 Apr 26.


Inflammation is a complex physiological process triggered in response to harmful stimuli1. It involves cells of the immune system capable of clearing sources of injury and damaged tissues. Excessive inflammation can occur as a result of infection and is a hallmark of several diseases2-4. The molecular bases underlying inflammatory responses are not fully understood. Here we show that the cell surface glycoprotein CD44, which marks the acquisition of distinct cell phenotypes in the context of development, immunity and cancer progression, mediates the uptake of metals including copper. We identify a pool of chemically reactive copper(II) in mitochondria of inflammatory macrophages that catalyses NAD(H) redox cycling by activating hydrogen peroxide. Maintenance of NAD+ enables metabolic and epigenetic programming towards the inflammatory state. Targeting mitochondrial copper(II) with supformin (LCC-12), a rationally designed dimer of metformin, induces a reduction of the NAD(H) pool, leading to metabolic and epigenetic states that oppose macrophage activation. LCC-12 interferes with cell plasticity in other settings and reduces inflammation in mouse models of bacterial and viral infections. Our work highlights the central role of copper as a regulator of cell plasticity and unveils a therapeutic strategy based on metabolic reprogramming and the control of epigenetic cell states.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Plasticity* / drug effects
  • Cell Plasticity* / genetics
  • Copper* / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Inflammation* / drug therapy
  • Inflammation* / genetics
  • Inflammation* / immunology
  • Inflammation* / metabolism
  • Inflammation* / pathology
  • Macrophage Activation / drug effects
  • Macrophage Activation / genetics
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Metformin / analogs & derivatives
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • Copper
  • NAD
  • Cd44 protein, mouse
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Metformin