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Aging Cell. 2018 Aug;17(4):e12772. doi: 10.1111/acel.12772. Epub 2018 May 8.

Metformin directly targets the H3K27me3 demethylase KDM6A/UTX.

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ProCURE (Program Against Cancer Therapeutic Resistance), Metabolism & Cancer Group, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Catalonia, Spain.
Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI), Girona, Spain.
Mind the Byte, Barcelona, Spain.
Unitat de Recerca Biomèdica, Hospital Universitari de Sant Joan, IISPV, Rovira i Virgili University, Reus, Spain.
Institute of Chemical Technology, Prague, Czech Republic.
Institute of Biotechnology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague-West, Czech Republic.
Unit of Clinical Research, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Spain.
INSERM U1016, Institut Cochin, Paris, France.
CNRS UMR 8104, Paris, France.
Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France.
School of Medical Science, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Southport, Queensland, Australia.


Metformin, the first drug chosen to be tested in a clinical trial aimed to target the biology of aging per se, has been clinically exploited for decades in the absence of a complete understanding of its therapeutic targets or chemical determinants. We here outline a systematic chemoinformatics approach to computationally predict biomolecular targets of metformin. Using several structure- and ligand-based software tools and reference databases containing 1,300,000 chemical compounds and more than 9,000 binding sites protein cavities, we identified 41 putative metformin targets including several epigenetic modifiers such as the member of the H3K27me3-specific demethylase subfamily, KDM6A/UTX. AlphaScreen and AlphaLISA assays confirmed the ability of metformin to inhibit the demethylation activity of purified KDM6A/UTX enzyme. Structural studies revealed that metformin might occupy the same set of residues involved in H3K27me3 binding and demethylation within the catalytic pocket of KDM6A/UTX. Millimolar metformin augmented global levels of H3K27me3 in cultured cells, including reversion of global loss of H3K27me3 occurring in premature aging syndromes, irrespective of mitochondrial complex I or AMPK. Pharmacological doses of metformin in drinking water or intraperitoneal injection significantly elevated the global levels of H3K27me3 in the hepatic tissue of low-density lipoprotein receptor-deficient mice and in the tumor tissues of highly aggressive breast cancer xenograft-bearing mice. Moreover, nondiabetic breast cancer patients receiving oral metformin in addition to standard therapy presented an elevated level of circulating H3K27me3. Our biocomputational approach coupled to experimental validation reveals that metformin might directly regulate the biological machinery of aging by targeting core chromatin modifiers of the epigenome.


aging; cancer; chemoinformatics; computational screening; metformin

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