Common diabetes drug may help achieve healthy aging

In a recent study from the Salk Institute and elsewhere, researchers used novel technology to examine why the most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug metformin functions so well to control blood sugar levels.

They identified a surprising number of biochemical “switches” for various cellular processes, which could also explain why metformin has been shown to extend health-span and life span in recent studies.

The study is published in Cell Reports. The lead author is Ben Stein, a postdoctoral associate at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Previously, the only biochemical pathway that was known to be activated by metformin was the AMPK pathway, which stalls cell growth and changes metabolism when nutrients are scarce, as can occur in cancer.

But the scientists believed more pathways than AMPK might be involved.

They developed a novel screening platform to examine kinases, the proteins that transfer phosphate groups, which are critical on/off switches in cells and can be rapidly flipped by metformin.

Using this technology, they were able to decode hundreds of regulatory “switch-flipping” events that could affect healthy aging.

The results showed that metformin turns on unexpected kinases and pathways, many independent of AMPK. Two of the activated kinases are called Protein Kinase D and MAPKAPK2.

These kinases are poorly understood, but are known to have some relation to cellular stress, which could connect them to the health-span- and lifespan-extending effects observed in other studies.

In fact, metformin is currently being tested in many big clinical studies as a health-span- and life-span-extending drug, but the mechanism for how metformin could affect health and aging has not been clear.

The current study indicates that Protein Kinase D and MAPKAPK2 maybe two players in providing these effects.

The team says the findings broaden the understanding of how metformin induces mild stress that triggers sensors to restore metabolic balance.

The big questions now are what targets of metformin can benefit the health of all people, not just type 2 diabetics.

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