Berberine induces dendritic cell apoptosis and has therapeutic potential for rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Apr;63(4):949-59. doi: 10.1002/art.30202.


Objective: To investigate the effects of berberine on dendritic cell (DC) apoptosis and its potential as a therapeutic agent in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: Bone marrow (BM)-derived myeloid DCs (MDCs) and plasmacytoid DCs (PDCs) were generated by culturing BM cells with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor/interleukin-4 or flt3L, respectively. Splenic DCs, T cells, and B cells were purified using a magnetic-activated cell sorting system. In vitro apoptosis was assessed by annexin V/propidium iodide or Hoechst 33258 staining. The in vivo effects of berberine were examined in mice with collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Immune responses against type II collagen (CII) were determined by assaying serum antibody levels, lymphocyte proliferation, and cytokine production. The proportions of DCs and apoptosis of different immune cell subsets in spleens and lymph nodes were analyzed by flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry after subset-specific surface marker labeling and TUNEL staining.

Results: Exposure of MDCs to berberine during BM cell differentiation reduced cell recovery by inducing apoptosis. Sensitivity to berberine-induced apoptosis was acquired starting on day 3 of DC differentiation, and mature DCs were more sensitive to berberine than immature DCs. Murine peritoneal macrophages, RAW 264.7 cells, and Jurkat cells were insensitive to berberine-induced apoptosis. Splenic DCs were more sensitive to berberine than T and B cells. Susceptibility of PDCs to berberine-induced apoptosis was similar to that of MDCs. In mice with CIA, berberine treatment ameliorated arthritis, suppressed CII-specific immune responses, and selectively increased the incidence of apoptosis in DCs within spleens and lymph nodes.

Conclusion: These findings show that berberine selectively induces apoptosis in DCs. Berberine may thus represent a novel therapeutic agent for RA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Arthritis, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Experimental / pathology
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Berberine / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Lymph Nodes / drug effects
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Spleen / drug effects
  • Spleen / pathology


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Berberine