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07.08.2018 | Original Paper

Metformin inhibits human breast cancer cell growth by promoting apoptosis via a ROS-independent pathway involving mitochondrial dysfunction: pivotal role of superoxide dismutase (SOD)

Cellular Oncology
Prateek Sharma, Sanjeev Kumar
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s13402-018-0398-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Despite a growing body of evidence indicating a potential efficacy of the anti-diabetic metformin as anti-cancer agent, the exact mechanism underlying this efficacy has remained largely unknown. Here, we aimed at assessing putative mechanisms associated with the ability of metformin to reduce the proliferation and migration of breast cancer cells.


A battery of in vitro assays including MTT, colony formation, NBT and scratch wound healing assays were performed to assess the viability, proliferation, anti-oxidative potential and migration of breast cancer-derived MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and T47D cells, respectively. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) assays along with fluorescence microscopy were used to assess apoptotic parameters. Quantification of SOD, Bcl-2, Bax, MMPs, miR-21 and miR-155 expression was performed using qRT-PCR.


We found that metformin inhibited the growth, proliferation and clonogenic potential of the breast cancer-derived cells tested. ROS levels were found to be significantly reduced by metformin and, concomitantly, superoxide dismutase (SOD) isoforms were found to be upregulated. Mitochondrial dysfunction was observed in metformin treated cells, indicating apoptosis. In metastatic MDA-MB-231 cells, migration was found to be suppressed by metformin through deregulation of the matrix metalloproteinases MMP-2 and MMP-9. The oncogenic microRNAs miR-21 and miR-155 were found to be downregulated by metformin, which may be correlated with the suppression of cell proliferation and/or migration.


Our data indicate that metformin may play a pivotal role in modulating the anti-oxidant system, including the SOD machinery, in breast cancer-derived cells. Our observations were validated by in silico analyses, indicating a close interaction between SOD and metformin. We also found that metformin may inhibit breast cancer-derived cell proliferation through apoptosis induction via the mitochondrial pathway. Finally, we found that metformin may modulate the pro-apoptotic Bax, anti-apoptotic Bcl-2, MMP-2, MMP-9, miR-21 and miR-155 expression levels. These findings may be instrumental for the clinical management and/or (targeted) treatment of breast cancer.

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