Anti-tumor activity of metformin: from metabolic and epigenetic perspectives

Xilan Yu, Wuxiang Mao, Yansheng Zhai, Chong Tong, Min Liu, Lixin Ma, Xiaolan Yu and Shanshan Li _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:5619-5628. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.13639

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Xilan Yu1,*, Wuxiang Mao1,*, Yansheng Zhai1, Chong Tong1, Min Liu1, Lixin Ma1, Xiaolan Yu1, Shanshan Li1

1Hubei Collaborative Innovation Center for Green Transformation of Bio-Resources, College of Life Sciences, Hubei University, Wuhan, Hubei, China

*These authors have equally contributed to this work

Correspondence to:

Xiaolan Yu, email: [email protected]

Shanshan Li, email: [email protected]

Keywords: metformin, therapeutic targets, metabolism, epigenetic modifications

Received: September 22, 2016    Accepted: November 03, 2016    Published: November 26, 2016


Metformin has been used to treat type 2 diabetes for over 50 years. Epidemiological, preclinical and clinical studies suggest that metformin treatment reduces cancer incidence in diabetes patients. Due to its potential as an anti-cancer agent and its low cost, metformin has gained intense research interest. Its traditional anti-cancer mechanisms involve both indirect and direct insulin-dependent pathways. Here, we discussed the anti-tumor mechanism of metformin from the aspects of cell metabolism and epigenetic modifications. The effects of metformin on anti-cancer immunity and apoptosis were also described. Understanding these mechanisms will shed lights on application of metformin in clinical trials and development of anti-cancer therapy.

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