Metformin effectively restores the HPA axis function in diet-induced obese rats

Andrew Shin, Priya Balasubramanian, Pavan Suryadevara, Justin Zyskowski, Thomas H. Herdt, Sheba M.J. MohanKumar, Puliyur S. MohanKumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Introduction: The hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is perturbed in obesity. We previously reported presence of leptin resistance in the brainstem and uncoupling between central noradrenergic tone and the HPA axis in obesity-prone (DIO) rats. Metformin is shown to lower body weight and adiposity, but the underlying mechanism is unclear. We hypothesized that this is associated with restored HPA axis function. Methods: Adult male DIO rats were placed on either a regular chow or HF diet for 7 weeks. Starting week 4, the animals were given either a low dose (60 mg/kg) or high dose (300 mg/kg) of metformin in drinking water. In addition to body weight and feeding, we examined different arms of the HPA axis to test if metformin can reinstate its function and coupling. To understand potential mechanisms, leptin signaling in the brainstem and circulating free fatty acid levels were also assessed. Results: Metformin treatment lowered weight gain, fat mass, caloric intake, and serum leptin levels. HPA axis activity as determined by corticotropin-releasing hormone in the median eminence and serum corticosterone was decreased by metformin in a dose-dependent manner, and so was norepinephrine (NE) in the paraventricular nucleus. Importantly, metformin completely normalized the NE-HPA axis uncoupling. While brainstem pSTAT-3 and SOCS-3, key markers of leptin signaling, were not different between groups, circulating saturated and unsaturated free fatty acids were reduced in HF-fed, metformin-treated animals. Conclusions: These findings suggest that oral metformin can successfully correct HPA axis dysfunction that is associated with lowered circulating free fatty acids in DIO rats, thereby uncovering a novel effect of metformin in the treatment of obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-395
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


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