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Endocr Relat Cancer. 2010 Jun 1;17(2):351-60. doi: 10.1677/ERC-09-0252. Print 2010 Jun.

Metformin blocks the stimulative effect of a high-energy diet on colon carcinoma growth in vivo and is associated with reduced expression of fatty acid synthase.

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Department of Experimental Medicine, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.


The molecular mechanisms responsible for the association of obesity with adverse colon cancer outcomes are poorly understood. We investigated the effects of a high-energy diet on growth of an in vivo colon cancer model. Seventeen days following the injection of 5x10(5) MC38 colon carcinoma cells, tumors from mice on the high-energy diet were approximately twice the volume of those of mice on the control diet. These findings were correlated with the observation that the high-energy diet led to elevated insulin levels, phosphorylated AKT, and increased expression of fatty acid synthase (FASN) by the tumor cells. Metformin, an antidiabetic drug, leads to the activation of AMPK and is currently under investigation for its antineoplastic activity. We observed that metformin blocked the effect of the high-energy diet on tumor growth, reduced insulin levels, and attenuated the effect of diet on phosphorylation of AKT and expression of FASN. Furthermore, the administration of metformin led to the activation of AMPK, the inhibitory phosphorylation of acetyl-CoA carboxylase, the upregulation of BNIP3 and increased apoptosis as estimated by poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) cleavage. Prior work showed that activating mutations of PI3K are associated with increased AKT activation and adverse outcome in colon cancer; our results demonstrate that the aggressive tumor behavior associated with a high-energy diet has similar effects on this signaling pathway. Furthermore, metformin is demonstrated to reverse the effects of the high-energy diet, thus suggesting a potential role for this agent in the management of a metabolically defined subset of colon cancers.

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