Berberine Antifungal Activity in Fluconazole-Resistant Pathogenic Yeasts: Action Mechanism Evaluated by Flow Cytometry and Biofilm Growth Inhibition in Candida spp

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2016 May 23;60(6):3551-7. doi: 10.1128/AAC.01846-15. Print 2016 Jun.


The incidence of fungal infections and, in particular, the incidence of fungal antibiotic resistance, which is associated with biofilm formation, have significantly increased, contributing to morbidity and mortality. Thus, new therapeutic strategies need to be developed. In this context, natural products have emerged as a major source of possible antifungal agents. Berberine is a protoberberine-type isoquinoline alkaloid isolated from the roots, rhizomes, and stem bark of natural herbs, such as Berberis aquifolium, Berberis vulgaris, Berberis aristata, and Hydrastis canadensis, and of Phellodendron amurense Berberine has been proven to have broad antibacterial and antifungal activity. In the present study, the potential antifungal effect of berberine against fluconazole-resistant Candida and Cryptococcus neoformans strains, as well as against the biofilm form of Candida spp., was assessed. The antifungal effect of berberine was determined by a broth microdilution method (the M27-A3 method of the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute) and flow cytometry techniques, in which the probable mechanism of action of the compound was also assessed. For biofilm assessment, a colorimetric 3-(4,5-dimethyl-2-thiazolyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was used to determine the susceptibility of sessile cells. The isolates used in the study belonged to the Laboratory of Bioprospection and Experiments in Yeast (LABEL) of the Federal University of Ceará. After 24 and 72 h, fluconazole-resistant Candida and Cryptococcus neoformans strains showed berberine MICs equal to 8 μg/ml and 16 μg/ml, respectively. Cytometric analysis showed that treatment with berberine caused alterations to the integrity of the plasma and mitochondrial membranes and DNA damage, which led to cell death, probably by apoptosis. Assessment of biofilm-forming isolates after treatment showed statistically significant reductions in biofilm cell activity (P < 0.001).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Berberine / adverse effects
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Candida / classification
  • Candida / drug effects*
  • Candida / genetics
  • Candidiasis / drug therapy*
  • Candidiasis / microbiology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cryptococcosis / drug therapy*
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / classification
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / drug effects*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / genetics
  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Fungal
  • Fluconazole / adverse effects
  • Fluconazole / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • L Cells
  • Mice
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / drug effects
  • Molecular Typing
  • Mycological Typing Techniques


  • Antifungal Agents
  • DNA, Fungal
  • Berberine
  • Fluconazole

Grants and funding

This work was supported by grants and fellowships from the National Council of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq), Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Level or Education Personnel (CAPES/Brazil), and the Foundation of Ceara Support for Scientific and Technological Development (FUNCAP/Ceara).