Metformin: Metabolic Rewiring Faces Tumor Heterogeneity

Mario Cioce, Claudio Pulito, Sabrina Strano, Giovanni Blandino, Vito Michele Fazio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Tumor heterogeneity impinges on all the aspects of tumor history, from onset to metastasis and relapse. It is growingly recognized as a propelling force for tumor adaptation to environmental and micro-environmental cues. Metabolic heterogeneity perfectly falls into this process. It strongly contributes to the metabolic plasticity which characterizes cancer cell subpopulations-capable of adaptive switching under stress conditions, between aerobic glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation-in both a convergent and divergent modality. The mitochondria appear at center-stage in this adaptive process and thus, targeting mitochondria in cancer may prove of therapeutic value. Metformin is the oldest and most used anti-diabetic medication and its relationship with cancer has witnessed rises and falls in the last 30 years. We believe it is useful to revisit the main mechanisms of action of metformin in light of the emerging views on tumor heterogeneity. We first analyze the most consolidated view of its mitochondrial mechanism of action and then we frame the latter in the context of tumor adaptive strategies, cancer stem cell selection, metabolic zonation of tumors and the tumor microenvironment. This may provide a more critical point of view and, to some extent, may help to shed light on some of the controversial evidence for metformin's anticancer action.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 9 2020


  • autophagy
  • cancer stem cells
  • ETC
  • metabolic heterogeneity
  • metformin
  • mitochondria
  • NFkB
  • STAT3
  • therapeutic target

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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