Research Papers:

Phenformin inhibits growth and epithelial-mesenchymal transition of ErbB2-overexpressing breast cancer cells through targeting the IGF1R pathway

Zhiying Guo, Ming Zhao, Erin W. Howard, Qingxia Zhao, Amanda B. Parris, Zhikun Ma and Xiaohe Yang _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:60342-60357. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.19466

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Zhiying Guo1, Ming Zhao1, Erin W. Howard1, Qingxia Zhao1, Amanda B. Parris1, Zhikun Ma1 and Xiaohe Yang1

1Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, North Carolina Central University, Kannapolis, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence to:

Xiaohe Yang, email: [email protected]

Keywords: phenformin, breast cancer, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, MMTV-ErbB2 transgenic mice

Received: November 04, 2016    Accepted: June 19, 2017    Published: July 22, 2017


Reports suggest that metformin, a popular anti-diabetes drug, prevents breast cancer through various systemic effects, including insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGFR) regulation. Although the anti-cancer properties of metformin have been well-studied, reports on a more bioavailable/potent biguanide, phenformin, remain sparse. Phenformin exerts similar functional activity to metformin and has been reported to impede mammary carcinogenesis in rats. Since the effects of phenformin on specific breast cancer subtypes have not been fully explored, we used ErbB2-overexpressing breast cancer cell and animal models to test the anti-cancer potential of phenformin. We report that phenformin (25–75 μM) decreased cell proliferation and impaired cell cycle progression in SKBR3 and 78617 breast cancer cells. Reduced tumor size after phenformin treatment (30 mg/kg/day) was demonstrated in an MMTV-ErbB2 transgenic mouse syngeneic tumor model. Phenformin also blocked epithelial-mesenchymal transition, decreased the invasive phenotype, and suppressed receptor tyrosine kinase signaling, including insulin receptor substrate 1 and IGF1R, in ErbB2-overexpressing breast cancer cells and mouse mammary tumor-derived tissues. Moreover, phenformin suppressed IGF1-stimulated proliferation, receptor tyrosine kinase signaling, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition markers in vitro. Together, our study implicates phenformin-mediated IGF1/IGF1R regulation as a potential anti-cancer mechanism and supports the development of phenformin and other biguanides as breast cancer therapeutics.

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