Research Papers:

Metformin exerts antitumor activity via induction of multiple death pathways in tumor cells and activation of a protective immune response

Felipe V. Pereira _, Amanda Campelo L. Melo, Jun Siong Low, Íris Arantes de Castro, Tárcio T. Braga, Danilo C. Almeida, Ana Gabriela U. Batista de Lima, Meire I. Hiyane, Matheus Correa-Costa, Vinicius Andrade-Oliveira, Clarice S.T. Origassa, Rosana M. Pereira, Susan M. Kaech, Elaine G. Rodrigues and Niels Olsen S. Câmara

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Oncotarget. 2018; 9:25808-25825. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.25380

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Felipe V. Pereira1,4, Amanda Campelo L. Melo1, Jun Siong Low4, Íris Arantes de Castro1, Tárcio T. Braga1, Danilo C. Almeida1, Ana Gabriela U. Batista de Lima2, Meire I. Hiyane1, Matheus Correa-Costa1, Vinicius Andrade-Oliveira1, Clarice S.T. Origassa1, Rosana M. Pereira3, Susan M. Kaech4, Elaine G. Rodrigues2 and Niels Olsen S. Câmara1

1Laboratory of Transplantation Immunobiology, Department of Immunology, University of São Paulo, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, 05508-900 São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2Laboratory of Cancer Immunobiology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, Escola Paulista de Medicina, Universidade Federal de São Paulo (EPM-UNIFESP), 04023-062 São Paulo, SP, Brazil

3Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, Department of Immunology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, 05508-900 São Paulo, SP, Brazil

4Department of Immunobiology, Yale University School of Medicine, 06520 New Haven, CT, USA

Correspondence to:

Felipe V. Pereira, email: [email protected]

Keywords: metformin; tumor immunity; T cells; cell death; sitagliptin

Received: March 19, 2016     Accepted: April 24, 2018     Published: May 25, 2018


The antitumor effect of metformin has been demonstrated in several types of cancer; however, the mechanisms involved are incompletely understood. In this study, we showed that metformin acts directly on melanoma cells as well as on the tumor microenvironment, particularly in the context of the immune response. In vitro, metformin induces a complex interplay between apoptosis and autophagy in melanoma cells. The anti-metastatic activity of metformin in vivo was assessed in several mouse models challenged with B16F10 cells. Metformin’s activity was, in part, immune system-dependent, whereas its antitumor properties were abrogated in immunodeficient (NSG) mice. Metformin treatment increased the number of lung CD8-effector-memory T and CD4+Foxp3+IL-10+ T cells in B16F10-transplanted mice. It also decreased the levels of Gr-1+CD11b+ and RORγ+ IL17+CD4+ cells in B16F10-injected mice and the anti-metastatic effect was impaired in RAG-1−/− mice challenged with B16F10 cells, suggesting an important role for T cells in the protection induced by metformin. Finally, metformin in combination with the clinical metabolic agents rapamycin and sitagliptin showed a higher antitumor effect. The metformin/sitagliptin combination was effective in a BRAFV600E/PTEN tamoxifen-inducible murine melanoma model. Taken together, these results suggest that metformin has a pronounced effect on melanoma cells, including the induction of a strong protective immune response in the tumor microenvironment, leading to tumor growth control, and the combination with other metabolic agents may increase this effect.

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