Restricting Colorectal Cancer Cell Metabolism with Metformin: An Integrated Transcriptomics Study

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Background: Metformin is a first-line therapy for type 2 diabetes as it disrupts cellular metabolism. Despite the association between metformin and lower cancer incidence, the anti-tumour activity of the drug in colorectal cancer (CRC) is incompletely understood. This study identifies underlying molecular mechanisms by which metformin slows colorectal cancer cell proliferation by investigating metformin-associated microRNA (miRNA) and target gene pairs implicated in signalling pathways. 

Methods: The present study analysed changes in miRNAs and the coding transcriptome in CRC cells treated with a sublethal dose of metformin, followed by the contextual validation of potential miRNA–target gene pairs. 

Results: Analyses of small RNA and transcriptome sequencing data revealed 104 miRNAs and 1221 mRNAs to be differentially expressed in CRC cells treated with metformin for 72 h. Interaction networks between differentially expressed miRNAs and putative target mRNAs were identified. Differentially expressed genes were mainly implicated in metabolism and signalling processes, such as the PI3K-Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways. Further validation of potential miRNA–target mRNA pairs revealed that metformin induced miR-2110 and miR-132-3p to target PIK3R3 and, consequently, regulate CRC cell proliferation, cell cycle progression and the PI3K-Akt signalling pathway. Metformin also induced miR-222-3p and miR-589-3p, which directly target STMN1 to inhibit CRC cell proliferation and cell cycle progression. 

Conclusions: This study identified novel changes in the coding transcriptome and small non-coding RNAs associated with metformin treatment of CRC cells. Integration of these datasets highlighted underlying mechanisms by which metformin impedes cell proliferation in CRC. Importantly, it identified the post-transcriptional regulation of specific genes that impact both metabolism and cell proliferation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2055
Number of pages21
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • colorectal cancer
  • MAPK/ERK pathway
  • metformin
  • microRNAs
  • PI3K/Akt pathway


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