Original Research| Volume 84, P193-201, October 2017

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Metformin targets gastric cancer stem cells

Published:August 17, 2017DOI:


      • Metformin reduces self-renewal gastric cancer stem cells (CSCs) capacities.
      • Metformin decreases the pool of gastric CSCs.
      • Metformin is able to induce differentiation of gastric CSCs.


      Gastric cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and has still a poor prognosis. Therefore, new therapeutic strategies are needed: among them, targeting cancer stem cells (CSCs) could offer new opportunities. The aim of our study was to evaluate the anti-tumoural effect of metformin on gastric cancer in vitro and in vivo and especially, to determine whether this molecule could target the gastric CSCs. Metformin effects were evaluated on the proliferation and tumourigenic properties of the gastric CSCs from patient-derived primary tumour xenografts (PDXs) and cancer cell lines (MKN45, AGS and MKN74) in vitro in conventional 2 dimensional (2D) and in 3 dimensional (3D) culture systems, in which only CSCs are able to form tumourspheres and in mouse xenograft models in vivo. Metformin induced a cell cycle arrest, which decreased cell proliferation in the 2D cultures. In a 3D culture system, metformin decreased the number of tumourspheres, revealing its capacity to target the CSCs. This effect was confirmed by the study of the expression of CSC markers (CD44 and Sox2) and differentiation markers (Kruppel-like factor 4 and MUC5AC), which were decreased or increased in response to metformin, respectively. Finally, in vivo treatment of PDXs with metformin led to a tumour growth delay and decreased the self-renewal ability of the CSCs. These results suggest that the use of metformin could represent an efficient strategy to inhibit tumour growth by targeting gastric CSCs.


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