Metformin and prostate cancer stem cells: a novel therapeutic target

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Prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in the world. Localized disease can be effectively treated with radiation therapy or radical prostatectomy. However, advanced prostate cancer is more difficult to treat and if metastatic, is incurable. There is a need for more effective therapy for advanced prostate cancer. One potential target is the cancer stem cell (CSC). CSCs have been described in several solid tumors, including prostate cancer, and contribute to therapeutic resistance and tumor recurrence. Metformin, a common oral biguanide used to treat type 2 diabetes, has been demonstrated to have anti-neoplastic effects. Specifically, metformin targets CSCs in breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, glioblastoma and colon cancer. Metformin acts directly on the mitochondria to inhibit oxidative phosphorylation and reduce mitochondrial ATP production. This forces tumor cells to compensate by increasing the rate of glycolysis. CSCs rely heavily on mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation for energy production. The glycolytic switch results in an energy crisis in these cells. Metformin could be used to exploit this metabolic weakness in CSCs. This would increase CSC sensitivity to conventional cancer therapies, circumventing treatment resistance and enhancing treatment efficacy. This review will explore the characteristics of prostate CSCs, their role in tumor propagation and therapeutic resistance and the role of metformin as a potential prostate CSC sensitizer to current anticancer therapies.

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