Berberine inhibits the proliferation of human uterine leiomyoma cells

Fertil Steril. 2015 Apr;103(4):1098-106. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.01.010. Epub 2015 Feb 14.


Objective: To determine whether berberine (BBR), a naturally occurring plant-derived alkaloid, inhibits the proliferation of human uterine leiomyoma (UtLM) cells.

Design: Laboratory research.

Setting: Laboratory.

Patient(s): UtLM and normal human uterine smooth muscle (UtSMC) cell lines.

Intervention(s): Treatment with [1] BBR (10, 20, and 50 μM), [2] BBR (20 and 50 μM) and/or 17β-estradiol (E2; 10 and 100 nM), and [3] BBR (20 and 50 μM) and/or progesterone (P4; 10 and 100 nM) for 24 or 72 hours.

Main outcome measure(s): Cell proliferation, cell cycle, apoptosis, and related genes expression were determined.

Result(s): BBR inhibited UtLM cell proliferation by inducing G2/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Cell cycle G2/M phase-related genes were altered by BBR treatment: the expression of cyclin A1, cyclin B1, and Cdk1 were down-regulated, while Cdk4, p21, and p53 were up-regulated. BBR-treated cells stained positively for annexin V and manifested increased BAX expression. E2- and P4-induced UtLM cell proliferation was blocked by BBR treatment. In marked contrast, even the highest concentration of BBR (50 μM) did not influence cell proliferation in UtSMC cells.

Conclusion(s): BBR selectively inhibits cellular proliferation and blocks E2- and P4-induced cell proliferation in UtLM but not in normal UtSMC cells. In addition, BBR did not demonstrate cytotoxicity effects in normal human UtSMCs. Our results suggest BBR could be a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of uterine leiomyoma.

Keywords: Berberine; anti-tumorigenic; antineoplastic; fibroids; leiomyomas; treatment; uterus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Berberine / therapeutic use
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Drug Antagonism
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leiomyoma / drug therapy
  • Leiomyoma / genetics
  • Leiomyoma / pathology*
  • Progesterone / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Uterine Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Uterine Neoplasms / genetics
  • Uterine Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Berberine
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol