Berberine as a promising safe anti-cancer agent - is there a role for mitochondria?

Curr Drug Targets. 2011 Jun;12(6):850-9. doi: 10.2174/138945011795528930.


Metabolic regulation is largely dependent on mitochondria, which play an important role in energy homeostasis. Imbalance between energy intake and expenditure leads to mitochondrial dysfunction, characterized by a reduced ratio of energy production (ATP production) to respiration. Due to the role of mitochondrial factors/events in several apoptotic pathways, the possibility of targeting that organelle in the tumor cell, leading to its elimination is very attractive, although the safety issue is problematic. Berberine, a benzyl-tetra isoquinoline alkaloid extracted from plants of the Berberidaceae family, has been extensively used for many centuries, especially in the traditional Chinese and Native American medicine. Several evidences suggest that berberine possesses several therapeutic uses, including anti-tumoral activity. The present review supplies evidence that berberine is a safe anti-cancer agent, exerting several effects on mitochondria, including inhibition of mitochondrial Complex I and interaction with the adenine nucleotide translocator which can explain several of the described effects on tumor cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Berberidaceae / chemistry
  • Berberine / adverse effects
  • Berberine / isolation & purification
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Electron Transport Complex I / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Berberine
  • Electron Transport Complex I