Glucocorticoids are widely used to treat chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. However, long-term glucocorticoid therapy can result in serious side effects, such as osteoporosis. The present study investigated the preventive effects of berberine on glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis in rats. Male Sprague Dawley rats were treated with vehicle, glucocorticoid, glucocorticoid and berberine, or glucocorticoid and calcium carbonate with vitamin D (3) for 12 weeks. The proximal tibiae of all rats were processed without decalcification for quantitative bone histomorphometry, and femur mechanical testing as well as bone mineral density (BMD) were analyzed. A significant decrease was found in the glucocorticoid-treated group compared with the control group in such indices as biomechanical quality, BMD, trabecular bone volume/total tissue area (BV/TV), trabecular number (Tb.N), trabecular thickness (Tb.Th), mineral apposition rate (MAR), bone formation rate/total tissue area (BFR/TV), and bone formation rate/trabecular bone surface (BFR/BS). In addition, significantly increased trabecular separation (Tb.Sp), osteoclast number/trabecular bone volume (Oc.N/BV), and osteoclast surface/trabecular bone surface (Oc.S/BS) were observed in the glucocorticoid-treated group, compared with the control group. Berberine and calcium carbonate with vitamin D (3) prevented the decrease in biomechanical quality, BMD, BV/TV, Tb.N, Tb.Th, MAR, BFR/TV, and BFR/BS, as well as increased Tb.Sp, Oc.N/BV, and Oc.S/BS in glucocorticoid-induced osteoporotic rats. The present results suggest that berberine prevents glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis by inhibiting bone resorption and improving bone formation.
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