Repurposing phenformin for the targeting of glioma stem cells and the treatment of glioblastoma

Wei Jiang, Susan Finniss, Simona Cazacu, Cunli Xiang, Ziv Brodie, Tom Mikkelsen, Laila Poisson, David B. Shackelford, Chaya Brodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most aggressive primary brain tumor with poor prognosis. Here, we studied the effects of phenformin, a mitochondrial complex I inhibitor and more potent chemical analog of the diabetes drug metformin on the inhibition of cell growth and induction of apoptosis of glioma stem cells (GSCs) using both in vitro and in vivo models. Phenformin inhibited the self-renewal of GSCs, decreased the expression of stemness and mesenchymal markers and increased the expression of miR-124, 137 and let-7. Silencing of let-7 abrogated phenformin effects on the self-renewal of GSCs via a pathway associated with inhibition of H19 and HMGA2 expression. Moreover, we demonstrate that phenformin inhibited tumor growth and prolonged the overall survival of mice orthotopically transplanted with GSCs. Combined treatments of phenformin and temozolomide exerted an increased antitumor effect on GSCs in vitro and in vivo. In addition, dichloroacetate, an inhibitor of the glycolysis enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, that decreases lactic acidosis induced by biguanides, enhanced phenformin effects on the induction of cell death in GSCs and prolonged the survival of xenograft-bearing mice. Our results demonstrate for the first time that phenformin targets GSCs and can be efficiently combined with current therapies for GBM treatment and GSC eradication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56456-56470
Number of pages15
Issue number35
StatePublished - 30 Aug 2016


  • Dichloroacetate
  • Glioma stem cells
  • HMGA2
  • Non-cording RNAs
  • Phenformin

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology


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