Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Karen H. Lu, M.D.

Committee Member

Rosemarie Schmandt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Samuel Mok, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kwong K. Wong, Ph.D.


Metformin has antiproliferative effects through the activation of AMPK and has gained interest as an antineoplastic agent in several cancer types, although studies in endometrial cancer (EC) are limited. The aims of this project were to evaluate pathways targeted by metformin in EC, investigate mechanisms by which metformin exerts its antiproliferative effects, and explore rational combination therapies with other targeted agents.

Three EC cell lines were used to evaluate metformin’s effect on cell proliferation, PI3K and Ras-MAPK signaling, and apoptosis. A xenograft mouse model was also used to evaluate the effects of metformin treatment on in vivo tumor growth. These preliminary studies demonstrated that K-Ras mutant cell lines exhibited a decreased proliferative rate, reduced tumor growth, and increased apoptosis in response to metformin compared to K-Ras wild-type cells.

To test the hypothesis that mutant K-Ras may predict response to metformin, murine EC cells with loss of PTEN and expressing mutant K-RasG12D were transfected to re-express PTEN or have K-Ras silenced using siRNA. While PTEN expression did not alter response to metformin, cells in which K-Ras was silenced displayed reduced sensitivity to metformin.

Mislocalization of K-Ras to the cytoplasm is associated with decreased signaling and induction of apoptosis. Metformin’s effect on K-Ras localization was analyzed by confocal microscopy in cells expressing oncogenic GFP-K-RasG12V. Metformin demonstrated concentration-dependent mislocalization of K-Ras to the cytoplasm. Mislocalization of K-Ras to the cytoplasm was confirmed in K-Ras mutant EC cells (Hec1A) by cell fractionation in response to metformin 1 and 5 mM (p=0.008 and p=0.004). This effect appears to be AMPK-independent as combined treatment with Compound C, an AMPK inhibitor, did not alter K-Ras localization. Furthermore, treatment of EC cells with metformin in combination with PI3K inhibitors resulted in a significant decrease in proliferation than either agent or metformin alone.

While metformin exerts antineoplastic effects by activation of AMPK and decreased PI3K signaling, our data suggest that metformin may also disrupt localization of K-Ras and hence its signaling in an AMPK-independent manner. This has important implications in defining patients who may benefit from metformin in combination with other targeted agents, such as mTOR inhibitors.


metformin, endometrial cancer, PI3K, K-Ras



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