Transforming berberine into its intestine-absorbable form by the gut microbiota

Sci Rep. 2015 Jul 15:5:12155. doi: 10.1038/srep12155.


The gut microbiota is important in the pathogenesis of energy-metabolism related diseases. We focused on the interaction between intestinal bacteria and orally administered chemical drugs. Oral administration of berberine (BBR) effectively treats patients with metabolic disorders. However, because BBR exhibits poor solubility, its absorption mechanism remains unknown. Here, we show that the gut microbiota converts BBR into its absorbable form of dihydroberberine (dhBBR), which has an intestinal absorption rate 5-fold that of BBR in animals. The reduction of BBR to dhBBR was performed by nitroreductases of the gut microbiota. DhBBR was unstable in solution and reverted to BBR in intestine tissues via oxidization. Heat inactivation of intestinal homogenate did not inhibit dhBBR oxidization, suggesting the process a non-enzymatic reaction. The diminution of intestinal bacteria via orally treating KK-Ay mice with antibiotics decreased the BBR-to-dhBBR conversion and blood BBR; accordingly, the lipid- and glucose-lowering efficacy of BBR was reduced. Conclusively, the gut microbiota reduces BBR into its absorbable form of dhBBR, which then oxidizes back to BBR after absorption in intestine tissues and enters the blood. Thus, interaction(s) between the gut microbiota and orally administrated drugs may modify the structure and function of chemicals and be important in drug investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Berberine / analogs & derivatives
  • Berberine / analysis
  • Berberine / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / chemistry
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Nitroreductases / chemistry
  • Nitroreductases / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Solubility
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Berberine
  • dihydroberberine
  • Nitroreductases