Anti-cancer effect of metformin by suppressing signaling pathway of HER2 and HER3 in tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells

Jinkyoung Kim, Jiyun Lee, Chungyeul Kim, Jinhyuk Choi, Aeree Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Development of new therapeutic strategies is becoming increasingly important to overcome tamoxifen resistance. Recently, much interest has been focused on anti-tumor effects of metformin commonly used to treat type II diabetes. Increased protein expression and signaling of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family is a possible mechanism involved in tamoxifen resistance. Since HER2/HER3 heterodimers are able to induce strong downstream signaling and activate various biological responses such as cellular proliferation and growth, we investigated the anti-cancer effect of metformin by inhibition of signaling pathway via downregulation of HER2 and HER3 using tamoxifen-resistant MCF-7 (TR MCF-7) cells. Compared to MCF-7 cells, TR MCF-7 cells showed increased expression of EGFR, HER2, and HER3, and metformin inhibited the expression of these proteins in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Metformin inhibited activation of HER2 (Tyr1248)/HER3 (Tyr1289)/Akt (Ser473) as well as cell proliferation and colony formation by estrogenic promotion in MCF-7 and TR MCF-7 cells. Known as a HER3 ligand, heregulin (HRG)-β1-induced phosphorylation of HER2, HER3 and Akt, and protein interaction of HER2/HER3 and colony formation were inhibited by metformin in both cells. Consistent with the results in the two cell lines, we identified that metformin inhibited HER2/HER3/Akt signaling axis activated by HRG-β1 using the HER2 and HER3-overexpressing breast cancer cell line SK-BR-3. Lastly, lapatinib-induced HER3 upregulation was significantly inhibited by treatment of metformin in HER3 siRNA-transfected TR MCF-7 cells. These data suggest that metformin might overcome tamoxifen resistance through the inhibition of expression and signaling of receptor tyrosine kinase HER2 and HER3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5811-5819
Number of pages9
JournalTumor Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016 May 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM).


  • Breast cancer
  • HER3
  • HRG-β1
  • Metformin
  • Receptor tyrosine kinase HER2
  • Tamoxifen resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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