Effects of berberine on glucose metabolism in vitro

Metabolism. 2002 Nov;51(11):1439-43. doi: 10.1053/meta.2002.34715.


The action of berberine was compared with metformin and troglitazone (TZD) with regard to the glucose-lowering action in vitro. HepG2 cell line, phenotypically similar to human hepatocytes, was used for glucose consumption (GC) studies. Cell proliferation was measured by methylthiotetrazole (MTT) assay. In moderate high glucose concentration (11.1 mmol/L), GC of HepG2 cells was increased by 32% to 60% (P <.001 to P <.0001) with 5 x 10(-6) mol/L to 1 x 10(-4) mol/L berberine, which was comparable to that with 1 x 10(-3) mol/L metformin. The glucose-lowering effect of berberine decreased as the glucose concentration increased. The maximal potency was reached in the presence of 5.5 mmol/L glucose, and it was abolished when the glucose concentration increased to 22.2 mmol/L. The effect was not dependent on insulin concentration, which was similar to that of metformin and was different from that of TZD, whose glucose-lowering effect is insulin dependent. TZD had a better antihyperglycemic potency than metformin when insulin was added (P <.001). In the meantime, a significant toxicity of the drug to HepG2 cells was also observed. The betaTC3 cell line was used for insulin release testing, and no secretogogue effect of berberine was observed. These observations suggest that berberine is able to exert a glucose-lowering effect in hepatocytes, which is insulin independent and similar to that of metformin, but has no effect on insulin secretion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Chromans / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Metformin / pharmacology
  • Phenotype
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thiazolidinediones*
  • Troglitazone


  • Chromans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • Berberine
  • Metformin
  • Troglitazone
  • Glucose