Metformin regulates metabolic and nonmetabolic pathways in skeletal muscle and subcutaneous adipose tissues of older adults

Ameya S. Kulkarni, Erika F. Brutsaert, Valentin Anghel, Kehao Zhang, Noah Bloomgarden, Michael Pollak, Jessica C. Mar, Meredith Hawkins, Jill P. Crandall, Nir Barzilai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Administration of metformin increases healthspan and lifespan in model systems, and evidence from clinical trials and observational studies suggests that metformin delays a variety of age-related morbidities. Although metformin has been shown to modulate multiple biological pathways at the cellular level, these pleiotropic effects of metformin on the biology of human aging have not been studied. We studied ~70-year-old participants (n = 14) in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial in which they were treated with 6 weeks each of metformin and placebo. Following each treatment period, skeletal muscle and subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies were obtained, and a mixed-meal challenge test was performed. As expected, metformin therapy lowered 2-hour glucose, insulin AUC, and insulin secretion compared to placebo. Using FDR<0.05, 647 genes were differentially expressed in muscle and 146 genes were differentially expressed in adipose tissue. Both metabolic and nonmetabolic pathways were significantly influenced, including pyruvate metabolism and DNA repair in muscle and PPAR and SREBP signaling, mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation, and collagen trimerization in adipose. While each tissue had a signature reflecting its own function, we identified a cascade of predictive upstream transcriptional regulators, including mTORC1, MYC, TNF, TGFß1, and miRNA-29b that may explain tissue-specific transcriptomic changes in response to metformin treatment. This study provides the first evidence that, in older adults, metformin has metabolic and nonmetabolic effects linked to aging. These data can inform the development of biomarkers for the effects of metformin, and potentially other drugs, on key aging pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12723
JournalAging cell
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • aging
  • biguanides
  • gene expression
  • metabolism
  • upstream regulators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cell Biology


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