Metformin has anti-inflammatory effects and induces immunometabolic reprogramming via multiple mechanisms in hidradenitis suppurativa

Br J Dermatol. 2023 Nov 16;189(6):730-740. doi: 10.1093/bjd/ljad305.


Background: Targeting immunometabolism has shown promise in treating autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease involving painful lesions in apocrine gland-bearing skin. Therapeutic options for HS are limited and often ineffective; thus, there is a pressing need for improved treatments. To date, metabolic dysregulation has not been investigated in HS. As HS is highly inflammatory, we hypothesized that energy metabolism is dysregulated in these patients. Metformin, an antidiabetic drug, which is known to impact on cellular metabolic and signalling pathways, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in cancer and arthritis. While metformin is not licensed for use in HS, patients with HS taking metformin show improved clinical symptoms.

Objective: To assess the effect and mechanism of action of metformin in HS.

Methods: To assess the effect of metformin in vivo, we compared the immune and metabolic profiles of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of patients with HS taking metformin vs. those not taking metformin. To examine the effect of metformin treatment ex vivo, we employed a skin explant model on skin biopsies from patients with HS not taking metformin, which we cultured with metformin overnight. We used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, multiplex cytokine assays and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to measure inflammatory markers, and Seahorse flux technology and quantitative RT-PCR to assess glucose metabolism.

Results: We showed that metabolic pathways are dysregulated in the PBMCs of patients with HS vs. healthy individuals. In metformin-treated patients, these metabolic pathways were restored and their PBMCs had reduced inflammatory markers following long-term metformin treatment. In the skin explant model, we found that overnight culture with metformin reduced inflammatory cytokines and chemokines and glycolytic genes in lesions and tracts of patients with HS. Using in vitro assays, we found that metformin may induce these changes via the NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome and the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)-mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, which is linked to glycolysis and protein synthesis.

Conclusions: Our study provides insight into the mechanisms of action of metformin in HS. The anti-inflammatory effects of metformin support its use as a therapeutic agent in HS, while its effects on immunometabolism suggest that targeting metabolism is a promising therapeutic option in inflammatory diseases, including HS.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Hidradenitis Suppurativa*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Metformin* / metabolism
  • Metformin* / pharmacology
  • Metformin* / therapeutic use
  • Skin / pathology


  • Metformin
  • Cytokines
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents