Research Papers:

Metformin attenuates gefitinib-induced exacerbation of pulmonary fibrosis by inhibition of TGF-β signaling pathway

Li Li, Wenting Huang, Kunlin Li, Kejun Zhang, Caiyu Lin, Rui Han, Conghua Lu, Yubo Wang, Hengyi Chen, Fenfen Sun and Yong He _

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:43605-43619. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.6186

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Li Li1,*, Wenting Huang1,*, Kunlin Li1,*, Kejun Zhang2, Caiyu Lin1, Rui Han1, Conghua Lu1, Yubo Wang1, Hengyi Chen1, Fenfen Sun1, Yong He1

1Department of Respiratory Disease, Daping Hospital, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China

2Department of Clinical Labratory, Daping Hospital, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Yong He, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: metformin, EGFR-TKI, pulmonary fibrosis, TGF-β

Received: June 13, 2015     Accepted: October 05, 2015     Published: October 20, 2015


Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a serious side-effect of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) treatment. Therefore, it is necessary to study underlying mechanisms for the development of pulmonary fibrosis induced by EGFR-TKI and potential approaches to attenuate it. Metformin is a well-established and widely prescribed oral hypoglycemic drug, and has gained attention for its potential anticancer effects. Recent reports have also demonstrated its role in inhibiting epithelial-mesenchymal transition and fibrosis. However, it is unknown whether metformin attenuates EGFR-TKI-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The effect of metformin on EGFR-TKI-induced exacerbation of pulmonary fibrosis was examined in vitro and in vivo using MTT, Ki67 incorporation assay, flow cytometry, immunostaining, Western blot analysis, and a bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis rat model. We found that in lung HFL-1 fibroblast cells, TGF-β or conditioned medium from TKI-treated lung cancer PC-9 cells or conditioned medium from TKI-resistant PC-9GR cells, induced significant fibrosis, as shown by increased expression of Collegen1a1 and α-actin, while metformin inhibited expression of fibrosis markers. Moreover, metformin decreased activation of TGF-β signaling as shown by decreased expression of pSMAD2 and pSMAD3. In vivo, oral administration of gefitinib exacerbated bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in rats, as demonstrated by HE staining and Masson staining. Significantly, oral co-administration of metformin suppressed exacerbation of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis by gefitinib. We have shown that metformin attenuates gefitinib-induced exacerbation of TGF-β or bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. These observations indicate metformin may be combined with EGFR-TKI to treat NSCLC patients.

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