Berberine is the major constituent of Coptis chinese and is commonly used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat patients with gastrointestinal disorders. In this study, using flow cytometry, we have found that a 24-h berberine treatment up-regulated the multidrug-resistant transporter (pgp-170) expression in two oral (KB, OC2), two gastric (SC-M1, NUGC-3) and two colon (COLO 205, CT 26) cancer cell lines. Decreased retention of rhodamine 123 was observed in berberine-treated cells as compared to vehicle control. To examine whether the berberine modulated pgp-170 expression in cancer cells is associated with changes in drug resistance, we determined the cytotoxicity, cell cycle progression and cell morphology of Paclitaxel-treated cells. Paclitaxel (1 nM-10 microM) treatment for 24 h induced cytotoxicity in OC2, SC-M1 and COLO 205 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Pretreatment of cells with 32 microM berberine for 24 h prior to Paclitaxel treatment resulted in increased viability as compared to that of Paclitaxel-treated cells. In addition, Paclitaxel-induced apoptosis and/or G2/M arrest in these three cancer cell lines. Pretreatment of cells with berberine prior to Paclitaxel blocked the Paclitaxel-induced cell cycle responses and morphological changes. These results together suggest that berberine modulated the expression and function of pgp-170 that leads to reduced response to Paclitaxel in digestive track cancer cells.