Metformin Disrupts Signaling and Metabolism in Fetal Hepatocytes
Metformin is used by women during pregnancy to manage diabetes and crosses the placenta, yet its effects on the fetus are unclear. We show that the liver is a site of metformin action in fetal sheep and macaques, given relatively abundant OCT1 transporter expression and hepatic uptake following metformin infusion into fetal sheep. To determine the effects of metformin action, we performed studies in primary hepatocytes from fetal sheep, fetal macaques, and juvenile macaques. Metformin increases AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signaling, decreases mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling, and decreases glucose production in fetal and juvenile hepatocytes. Metformin also decreases oxygen consumption in fetal hepatocytes. Unique to fetal hepatocytes, metformin activates stress pathways (e.g., increased PGC1A gene expression, NRF-2 protein abundance, and phosphorylation of eIF2a and CREB proteins) alongside perturbations in hepatokine expression (e.g., increased growth/differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) and fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) expression and decreased insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) expression). Similarly, in liver tissue from sheep fetuses infused with metformin in vivo, AMPK phosphorylation, NRF-2 protein, and PGC1A expression are increased. These results demonstrate disruption of signaling and metabolism, induction of stress, and alterations in hepatokine expression in association with metformin exposure in fetal hepatocytes.