Metformin prevents the development of oral squamous cell carcinomas from carcinogen-induced premalignant lesions

Lynn Vitale-Cross, Alfredo A. Molinolo, Daniel Martin, Rania H. Younis, Takashi Maruyama, Vyomesh Patel, Wanjun Chen, Abraham Schneider, J. Silvio Gutkind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a major public health concern. The recent identification of the mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling pathway as a highly prevalent molecular signature underlying HNSCC pathogenesis has provided the foundation to search for novel therapeutic approaches to prevent and treat HNSCC. Here, we asked whether metformin, the most widely used medication for the treatment of type II diabetes, which acts in part by stimulating the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signaling pathway thereby reducing mTORC1 activity, may lower the risk of HNSCC development. Indeed, we show that metformin reduces the growth of HNSCC cells and diminishes their mTORC1 activity by both AMPK-dependent and -independent mechanisms. We also optimized an oral-specific carcinogenesis mouse model that results in the accumulation of multiple oral premalignant lesions at the end of the carcinogen exposure, some of which then spontaneously progress into HNSCC. Using this mouse model, we observed that metformin specifically inhibits mTORC1 in the basal proliferating epithelial layer of oral premalignant lesions. Remarkably, metformin prevented the development of HNSCC by reducing significantly the size and number of carcinogen-induced oral tumoral lesions and by preventing their spontaneous conversion to squamous cell carcinomas. Collectively, our data underscore the potential clinical benefits of using metformin as a targeted chemopreventive agent in the control of HNSCC development and progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-573
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Prevention Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Apr
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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