Background: Clinical combination of some traditional Chinese medical herbs, including berberine, with irradiation is demonstrated to improve efficacy of tumor radiotherapy, yet the mechanisms for such effect remain largely unknown. The present study investigated the effect of berberine on apoptosis induced by X-rays irradiation and the relation between this effect and gap junction intercellular communication (GJIC).
Methods: The role of gap junctions in the modulation of X-rays irradiation-induced apoptosis was explored by manipulation of connexin (Cx) expression, and gap junction function, using oleamide, a GJIC inhibitor, and berberine.
Results: In transfected HeLa cells, Cx32 expression increased apoptosis induced by X-rays irradiation, while inhibition of gap junction by oleamide reduced the irradiation responses, indicating the dependence of X-rays irradiation-induced apoptosis on GJIC. Berberine, at the concentrations without cytotoxicity, enhanced apoptosis induced by irradiation only in the presence of functional gap junctions.
Conclusions: These results suggest that berberine potentizes cell apoptosis induced by X-rays irradiation, probably through enhancement of gap junction activity.