Metformin: Experimental and clinical evidence for a potential role in emphysema treatment

Francesca Polverino, Tianshi David Wu, Joselyn Rojas-Quintero, Xiaoyun Wang, Jonathan Mayo, Michael Tomchaney, Judy Tram, Samuel Packard, Duo Zhang, Kristan H. Cleveland, Elizabeth Cordoba-Lanus, Caroline A. Owen, Ashraf Fawzy, Greg L. Kinney, Craig P. Hersh, Nadia N. Hansel, Kevin Doubleday, Maor Sauler, Yohannes Tesfaigzi, Julie G. LedfordCiro Casanova, Jaroslaw Zmijewski, John Konhilas, Paul R. Langlais, Rick Schnellmann, Irfan Rahman, Meredith McCormack, Bartolome Celli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Cigarette smoke (CS) inhalation triggers oxidative stress and inflammation, leading to accelerated lung aging, apoptosis, and emphysema, as well as systemic pathologies. Metformin is beneficial for protecting against aging-related diseases. Objectives: We sought to investigate whether metformin may ameliorate CS-induced pathologies of emphysematous chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Methods: Mice were exposed chronically to CS and fed metformin-enriched chow for the second half of exposure. Lung, kidney, and muscle pathologies, lung proteostasis, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, mitochondrial function, and mediators of metformin effects in vivo and/or in vitro were studied. We evaluated the association of metformin use with indices of emphysema progression over 5 years of follow-up among the COPDGene (Genetic Epidemiology of COPD) study participants. The association of metformin use with the percentage of emphysema and adjusted lung density was estimated by using a linear mixed model. Measurements and Main Results: Metformin protected against CS-induced pulmonary inflammation and airspace enlargement; small airway remodeling, glomerular shrinkage, oxidative stress, apoptosis, telomere damage, aging, dysmetabolism in vivo and in vitro; and ER stress. The AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) pathway was central to metformin's protective action. Within COPDGene, participants receiving metformin compared with those not receiving it had a slower progression of emphysema (20.92%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 21.7% to 20.14%; P = 0.02) and a slower adjusted lung density decrease (2.2 g/L; 95% CI, 0.43 to 4.0 g/L; P = 0.01). Conclusions: Metformin protected against CS-induced lung, renal, and muscle injury; mitochondrial dysfunction; and unfolded protein responses and ER stress in mice. In humans, metformin use was associated with lesser emphysema progression over time. Our results provide a rationale for clinical trials testing the efficacy of metformin in limiting emphysema progression and its systemic consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)651-666
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of respiratory and critical care medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 15 2021


  • Aging
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Comorbidities
  • Metformin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Metformin: Experimental and clinical evidence for a potential role in emphysema treatment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this