A functional screen with metformin identifies microRNAs that regulate metabolism in colorectal cancer cells

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Metformin inhibits oxidative phosphorylation and can be used to dissect metabolic pathways in colorectal cancer (CRC) cells. CRC cell proliferation is inhibited by metformin in a dose dependent manner. MicroRNAs that regulate metabolism could be identified by their ability to alter the effect of metformin on CRC cell proliferation. An unbiased high throughput functional screen of a synthetic micoRNA (miRNA) library was used to identify miRNAs that impact the metformin response in CRC cells. Experimental validation of selected hits identified miRNAs that sensitize CRC cells to metformin through modulation of proliferation, apoptosis, cell-cycle and direct metabolic disruption. Among eight metformin sensitizing miRNAs identified by functional screening, miR-676-3p had both pro-apoptotic and cell cycle arrest activity in combination with metformin, whereas other miRNAs (miR-18b-5p, miR-145-3p miR-376b-5p, and miR-718) resulted primarily in cell cycle arrest when combined with metformin. Investigation of the combined effect of miRNAs and metformin on CRC cell metabolism showed that miR-18b-5p, miR-145-3p, miR-376b-5p, miR-676-3p and miR-718 affected glycolysis only, while miR-1181 only regulated CRC respiration. MicroRNAs can sensitize CRC cells to the anti-proliferative effects of metformin. Identifying relevant miRNA targets may enable the design of innovative therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2889
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022


  • Cancer metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • High-throughput screening
  • miRNAs

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