Diabetes drug metformin could help reverse liver inflammation

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists from the Salk Institute found common diabetes drug metformin could help reverse liver inflammation.

They found that metformin can regulate proteins that control aspects of inflammation in the liver.

The diabetes drug metformin — derived from a lilac plant that’s been used medicinally for more than a thousand years — has been prescribed to hundreds of millions of people worldwide as the frontline treatment for type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have found that metformin activates a metabolic master switch, a protein called AMPK, which conserves a cell’s energy under low nutrient conditions, and which is activated naturally in the body following exercise.

In the study, researchers showed that in the liver, when AMPK couldn’t communicate with Raptor or TSC2, metformin’s effect on hundreds of genes was blocked.

Some of these genes were related to lipid (fat) metabolism, helping explain some of metformin’s beneficial effects. But surprisingly, many others were linked to inflammation.

Metformin, the genetic data showed, normally turned on anti-inflammatory pathways and these effects required AMPK, TSC2 and Raptor.

People suffering from obesity and diabetes often exhibit chronic inflammation, which further leads to additional weight gain and other maladies including heart disease and stroke.

Therefore, identifying an important role for metformin in the control of both blood glucose and inflammation reveals how metformin can treat metabolic diseases by multiple means.

Metformin and exercise elicit similar beneficial outcomes, and research has previously shown that AMPK helps mediate some of the positive effects of exercise on the body.

The team says if turning on AMPK is responsible for some of the systemic benefits of exercise, that means scientists might be able to better mimic this with new therapeutics designed to mimic some of those effects.

In the meantime, the findings suggest that researchers should study the potential use of metformin in inflammatory diseases, particularly those involving liver inflammation.

If you care about liver health please read studies about how to prevent liver disease with diet and lifestyle changes, and this common sugar in American diet may lead to fatty liver disease.

For more information about diabetes, please see recent studies about how bitter melon could benefit people with diabetes, and results showing how to control diabetes apart from blood sugar levels.

The research was published in Genes & Development and conducted by Reuben Shaw et al.