The blood sugar-lowering drug metformin prevented pulmonary inflammation, a major factor in COVID-19 severity and mortality, in studies of mice infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Metformin is a widely prescribed blood sugar-lowering drug.
It is often used as an early therapy (in combination with diet and lifestyle changes) for type 2 diabetes, which afflicts more than 34 million Americans.
Metformin works by lowering glucose production in the liver, reducing blood sugar levels that, in turn, improve the body’s response to insulin. But scientists have also noted that metformin possesses anti-inflammatory properties, though the basis for this activity was not known.
In a study published in the journal Immunity, a multi-institution team led by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine identified the molecular mechanism for the anti-inflammatory activity of metformin and, in mouse studies, found that metformin prevents pulmonary or lung inflammation in animals infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Over the past year, several retrospective clinical studies had reported that metformin use by diabetic and obese patients prior to hospital admission for COVID-19 correlated to reduced severity and mortality.
Both diabetes and obesity are recognized risk factors for COVID-19, and are linked to more severe outcomes.
Notably, other drugs used to control blood sugar levels do not appear to produce a similar effect.
But while these clinical studies suggested metformin’s anti-inflammatory activity, rather than lowering of blood glucose, could be responsible for reduced COVID-19 severity and mortality.
The authors said the findings suggest metformin may have therapeutic potential for treating a variety of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases in which NLRP3 inflammasome activation is a factor.
Inhibition of inflammasome activation may also account for the poorly explained anti-aging effect of metformin.
Metformin, sold under the brand name Glucophage among others, is the first-line medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, particularly in people who are overweight. It is also used in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. It is not associated with weight gain and is taken by mouth.
Source: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – SAN DIEGO.