Phenformin and metformin are antihyperglycemic drugs that belong to the class of biguanides. Previously, we demonstrated that metformin elicits renoprotective effects in unilateral ureteral obstructed mice by reducing the infiltration of immune cells into the kidney. Since phenformin is a more potent drug as compared to metformin, we investigated the renoprotective properties of phenformin. We studied the efficacy of both drugs using mice that underwent unilateral ureteral obstruction. Renal damage was evaluated on RNA and protein level by qPCR, Western blotting, and immunohistochemistry. Moreover, we studied immune cell infiltration using flow cytometry. Both biguanides significantly reduced UUO-induced kidney injury, as illustrated by a reduction in KIM-1 protein expression. In addition, both metformin and phenformin impacted the gene expression of several inflammatory markers but to a different extent. Moreover, in contrast to metformin, phenformin did not impact immune cell infiltration into UUO kidneys. In conclusion, we demonstrated that phenformin has similar renoprotective effects as metformin, but the mechanism of action differs, and phenformin is more potent. The beneficial effects of phenformin are probably due to inhibition of the STAT3 pathway and mitochondrial complex I. Further research is needed to unveil the therapeutic potential of phenformin for the treatment of renal injury, either at low, non-toxic concentrations or as part of a combination therapy.
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