Type 2 diabetes patients show defects in insulin signal transduction that include lack of insulin receptor, decrease in insulin stimulated receptor tyrosine kinase activity and receptor-mediated phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrates (IRSs). A small molecule that could target insulin signaling would be of significant advantage in the treatment of diabetes. Berberine (BBR) has recently been shown to lower blood glucose levels and to improve insulin resistance in db/db mice partly through the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) signaling and induction of phosphorylation of insulin receptor (IR). However, the underlying mechanism remains largely unknown. Here we report that BBR mimics insulin action by increasing glucose uptake ability by 3T3-L1 adipocytes and L6 myocytes in an insulin-independent manner, inhibiting phosphatase activity of protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP1B), and increasing phosphorylation of IR, IRS1 and Akt in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. In diabetic mice, BBR lowers hyperglycemia and improves impaired glucose tolerance, but does not increase insulin release and synthesis. The results suggest that BBR represents a different class of anti-hyperglycemic agents.
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