Metabolomic profiles of metformin in breast cancer survivors: a pooled analysis of plasmas from two randomized placebo-controlled trials

Federica Bellerba, Anastasia Chrysovalantou Chatziioannou, Paniz Jasbi, Nivonirina Robinot, Pekka Keski-Rahkonen, Amarine Trolat, Béatrice Vozar, Sheri J. Hartman, Augustin Scalbert, Bernardo Bonanni, Harriet Johansson, Dorothy D. Sears, Sara Gandini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Obesity is a major health concern for breast cancer survivors, being associated with high recurrence and reduced efficacy during cancer treatment. Metformin treatment is associated with reduced breast cancer incidence, recurrence and mortality. To better understand the underlying mechanisms through which metformin may reduce recurrence, we aimed to conduct metabolic profiling of overweight/obese breast cancer survivors before and after metformin treatment. Methods: Fasting plasma samples from 373 overweight or obese breast cancer survivors randomly assigned to metformin (n = 194) or placebo (n = 179) administration were collected at baseline, after 6 months (Reach For Health trial), and after 12 months (MetBreCS trial). Archival samples were concurrently analyzed using three complementary methods: untargeted LC–QTOF-MS metabolomics, targeted LC–MS metabolomics (AbsoluteIDQ p180, Biocrates), and gas chromatography phospholipid fatty acid assay. Multivariable linear regression models and family-wise error correction were used to identify metabolites that significantly changed after metformin treatment. Results: Participants (n = 352) with both baseline and study end point samples available were included in the analysis. After adjusting for confounders such as study center, age, body mass index and false discovery rate, we found that metformin treatment was significantly associated with decreased levels of citrulline, arginine, tyrosine, caffeine, paraxanthine, and theophylline, and increased levels of leucine, isoleucine, proline, 3-methyl-2-oxovalerate, 4-methyl-2-oxovalerate, alanine and indoxyl-sulphate. Long-chain unsaturated phosphatidylcholines (PC ae C36:4, PC ae C38:5, PC ae C36:5 and PC ae C38:6) were significantly decreased with the metformin treatment, as were phospholipid-derived long-chain n-6 fatty acids. The metabolomic profiles of metformin treatment suggest change in specific biochemical pathways known to impair cancer cell growth including activation of CYP1A2, alterations in fatty acid desaturase activity, and altered metabolism of specific amino acids, including impaired branched chain amino acid catabolism. Conclusions: Our results in overweight breast cancer survivors identify new metabolic effects of metformin treatment that may mechanistically contribute to reduced risk of recurrence in this population and reduced obesity-related cancer risk reported in observational studies. Trial registration: identifier: NCT01302379 and EudraCT Protocol #: 2015-001001-14.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number629
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Cancer
  • Lipids
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Prevention
  • Recurrence
  • Weight loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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