Metformin suppresses tumor progression by inactivating stromal fibroblasts in ovarian cancer

Sen Xu, Zongyuan Yang, Ping Jin, Xin Yang, Xiaoting Li, Xiao Wei, Ya Wang, Sixiang Long, Taoran Zhang, Gang Chen, Chaoyang Sun, Ding Ma, Qinglei Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations


Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease due to its high incidence of relapse and chemoresistance. The tumor microenvironment, especially the tumor stroma compartment, was proven to contribute tremendously to the unsatisfactory chemotherapeutic efficacy in ovarian cancer. Cytotoxic agents not only effect tumor cells, but also modulate the phenotype and characteristics of the vast stromal cell population, which can in turn alter the tumor cell response to chemointervention. In this study, we focused on the tumor stroma response to cytotoxic agents and the subsequent effect on the ovarian cancer tumor cells. First, we found a significant stromal overexpression of IL6 in patient samples that received cisplatin-based treatment, which was further validated in purified fibroblasts challenged with cisplatin. Stromal fibroblast–derived IL6 was proven to mediate ovarian cancer tumor cell chemoresistance. For the first time, we found that the tumor stroma of patients with routine metformin administration exhibited lower IL6 expression. Thus, we presumed that metformin was a potent alleviator of stromal inflammation in ovarian cancer. We found that metformin partly reversed cisplatin-stimulated IL6 secretion in the stromal fibroblasts and attenuated fibroblast-facilitated tumor growth in 3D organotypic cocultures and murine xenograft models. Mechanistically, we found that metformin inhibited IL6 secretion via suppressing NFkB signaling, an upstream controller of stromal inflammation. Collectively, our findings introduced a novel mechanism of metformin in suppressing ovarian cancer progression through diminishing chemotherapy-induced stromal activation. Therefore, we provide an alternative therapeutic option in targeting stromal inflammation and a potential scheme of combination therapy to improve the chemosensitivity in ovarian cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1291-1302
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular cancer therapeutics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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  • Cite this

    Xu, S., Yang, Z., Jin, P., Yang, X., Li, X., Wei, X., Wang, Y., Long, S., Zhang, T., Chen, G., Sun, C., Ma, D., & Gao, Q. (2018). Metformin suppresses tumor progression by inactivating stromal fibroblasts in ovarian cancer. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 17(6), 1291-1302.