Can this common diabetes drug treat heart failure?

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Metformin, a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, might offer a way to treat a type of heart failure predicted to affect more than 8 percent of people age 65 or older by 2020, according to a new study.

The findings show that metformin relaxes a key heart muscle protein called titin, which allows the heart to properly fill with blood before pumping it throughout the body.

Medical experts consider nearly half of all heart failure patients to have heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFpEF. For patients with HFpEF, the heart can properly contract but, because the wall of the left ventricle is stiffer than normal, fails to fully relax between beats, reducing its capacity to fill with blood. This reduces blood supply to the rest of the body, leading to shortness of breath with exertion and difficulty exercising.

HFpEF is more common in women. Other risk factors include hypertension, old age, and obesity. Unlike other forms of heart failure, however, there are no available drugs to treat it.

Researchers already know metformin increases left ventricular dilation and lowers the rate of heart failure in diabetes patients.

For the new study, which appears in the Journal of General Physiology, researchers gave metformin to mice with HFpEF-like symptoms and found the drug reduced left ventricular stiffness, which improved the animals’ capacity for exercise.

The researchers discovered that in the mice, metformin relaxed the left ventricle by making a heart muscle protein called titin more compliant. Titin acts like a molecular spring that helps the muscle recoil after it is stretched and enzymes that add phosphate groups to the protein’s spring-like elements can tweak titin’s stiffness.

One of these elements, known as the N2B element, contains abnormally few phosphate groups in HFpEF patients, making titin extra stiff. Researchers found, however, that metformin increased the number of phosphate groups in the N2B element of mouse titin, causing the protein, and the heart muscle as a whole, to become more compliant.

“We therefore conclude that metformin is a potential therapy for patients with HFpEF,” says Henk Granzier, professor of cellular and molecular medicine and physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Tucson.

“Because the drug is already approved and well-tolerated in humans, using it to target titin stiffness presents a unique opportunity for immediate translation to the clinic.”

Source: Katie Maass for University of Arizona