Metformin prevents liver tumorigenesis by inhibiting pathways driving hepatic lipogenesis

Kavita Bhalla, Bor Jang Hwang, Ruby E. Dewi, William Twaddel, Olga G. Goloubeva, Kwok Kin Wong, Neeraj K. Saxena, Shyam Biswal, Geoffrey D. Girnun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


A number of factors have been identified that increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Recently it has become appreciated that type II diabetes increases the risk of developing HCC. This represents a patient population that can be identified and targeted for cancer prevention. The biguanide metformin is a first-line therapy for the treatment of type II diabetes in which it exerts its effects primarily on the liver. A role of metformin in HCC is suggested by studies linking metformin intake for control of diabetes with a reduced risk of HCC. Although a number of preclinical studies show the anticancer properties of metformin in a number of tissues, no studies have directly examined the effect of metformin on preventing carcinogenesis in the liver, one of its main sites of action. We show in these studies that metformin protected mice against chemically induced liver tumors. Interestingly, metformin did not increase AMPK activation, often shown to be a metformin target. Rather metformin decreased the expression of several lipogenic enzymes and lipogenesis. In addition, restoring lipogenic gene expression by ectopic expression of the lipogenic transcription factor SREBP1c rescues metformin-mediated growth inhibition. This mechanism of action suggests that metformin may also be useful for patients with other disorders associated with HCC in which increased lipid synthesis is observed. As a whole these studies show that metformin prevents HCC and that metformin should be evaluated as a preventive agent for HCC in readily identifiable at-risk patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)544-552
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Prevention Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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