Synergistic effects of metformin treatment in combination with gefitinib, a selective EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor, in LKB1 wild-type NSCLC cell lines

Floriana Morgillo, Ferdinando Carlo Sasso, Carminia Maria Della Corte, Donata Vitagliano, Elena D'Aiuto, Teresa Troiani, Erika Martinelli, Ferdinando De Vita, Michele Orditura, Raffaele De Palma, Fortunato Ciardiello
Clinical Cancer Research 2013 July 1, 19 (13): 3508-19

PURPOSE: EGF receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) have been found to be effective against lung cancer, but clinical resistance to these agents has developed as their usage has increased. Metformin is a widely used antidiabetic drug and also displays significant growth-inhibitory and proapoptotic effects in several cancer models, alone or in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: The effects of gefitinib, a selective EGFR-TKI, and metformin on a panel of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines were assessed by using MTT, bromide assay, flow cytometry, anchorage-independent growth, coimmunoprecipitation, and Western blot analysis.

RESULTS: The combination of metformin with gefitinib induced a strong antiproliferative and proapoptotic effect in NSCLC cell lines that harbored wild-type LKB1 gene. Treatment with metformin as single agent, however, induced an activation and phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) through an increased C-RAF/B-RAF heterodimerization. The inhibition of EGFR phosphorylation and of downstream signaling by adding gefitinib to metformin treatment abrogated this phenomenon and induced a strong apoptotic effect in vitro and in vivo.

CONCLUSIONS: Metformin and gefitinib are synergistic in LKB1 wild-type NSCLC cells. However, further studies are required to investigate better the effect of metformin action on the RAS/RAF/MAPK pathway and the best context in which to use metformin in combination with molecular targeted agents.

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