Goldenseal has been used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments including gastrointestinal disturbances, urinary tract disorders, and inflammation. The five major alkaloid constituents in goldenseal are berberine, palmatine, hydrastine, hydrastinine, and canadine. When goldenseal was evaluated by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the standard 2-year bioassay, goldenseal induced an increase in liver tumors in rats and mice; however, the mechanism of goldenseal-associated liver carcinogenicity remains unknown. In this study, the toxicity of the five goldenseal alkaloid constituents was characterized, and their toxic potencies were compared. As measured by the Comet assay and the expression of γ-H2A.X, berberine, followed by palmatine, appeared to be the most potent DNA damage inducer in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Berberine and palmatine suppressed the activities of both topoisomerase (Topo) I and II. In berberine-treated cells, DNA damage was shown to be directly associated with the inhibitory effect of Topo II, but not Topo I by silencing gene of Topo I or Topo II. In addition, DNA damage was also observed when cells were treated with commercially available goldenseal extracts and the extent of DNA damage was positively correlated to the berberine content. Our findings suggest that the Topo II inhibitory effect may contribute to berberine- and goldenseal-induced genotoxicity and tumorigenicity.
Keywords: Berberine; Comet assay; DNA damage; Goldenseal; Topoisomerase; γ-H2A.X.
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