Synergistic chemopreventive effects of curcumin and berberine on human breast cancer cells through induction of apoptosis and autophagic cell death

Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 6;6:26064. doi: 10.1038/srep26064.


Curcumin (CUR) and berberine (BBR) are renowned natural compounds that exhibit potent anticancer activities through distinct molecular mechanisms. However, the anticancer capacity of either CUR or BBR is limited. This prompted us to investigate the chemopreventive potential of co-treatment of CUR and BBR against breast cancers. The results showed that CUR and BBR in combination synergistically inhibited the growth of both MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells than the compounds used alone. Further study confirmed that synergistic anti-breast cancer activities of co-treatment of these two compounds was through inducing more apoptosis and autophagic cell death (ACD). The co-treatment-induced apoptosis was caspase-dependent and through activating ERK pathways. Our data also demonstrated that co-treatment of CUR and BBR strongly up-regulated phosphorylation of JNK and Beclin1, and decreased phosphorylated Bcl-2. Inhibition of JNK by SP600125 markedly decreased LC3-II and Beclin1, restored phosphorylated Bcl-2, and reduced the cytotoxicity induced by the two compounds in combination. These results strongly suggested that JNK/Bcl-2/Beclin1 pathway played a key role in the induction of ACD in breast cancer cells by co-treatment of CUR and BBR. This study provides an insight into the potential application of curcumin and berberine in combination for the chemoprevention and treatment of breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Beclin-1 / metabolism
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Cell Growth Processes / drug effects
  • Chemoprevention
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4 / metabolism
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Beclin-1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Berberine
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4
  • Curcumin