Berberine inhibits EGFR signaling and enhances the antitumor effects of EGFR inhibitors in gastric cancer

Oncotarget. 2016 Nov 15;7(46):76076-76086. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.12589.


Cetuximab plus chemotherapy for advanced gastric cancer (GC) shows an active result in phase 2 trials. Unfortunately, Combination of cetuximab does not provide enough benefit to chemotherapy alone in phase 3 trials. Studies have demonstrated that berberine can suppress the activation of EGFR in tumors. In this study, we evaluated whether berberine could enhance the effects of EGFR-TKIs in GC cell lines and xenograft models. Our data suggest that berberine could effectively enhance the activity of erlotinib and cetuximab in vitro and in vivo. Berberine was found to inhibit growth in GC cell lines and to induce apoptosis. These effects were linked to inhibition of EGFR signaling activation, including the phosphorylation of STAT3. The expressions of Bcl-xL and Cyclind1 proteins were decreased, whereas the levels of cleavage of poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) were considerably increased in the cell lines in response to berberine treatment. These results suggest a potential role for berberine in the treatment of GC, particularly in combination with EGFR-TKIs therapy. Berberine may be a competent therapeutic agent in GC where it can enhance the effects of EGFR inhibitors.

Keywords: EGFR; STAT3; berberine; cetuximab; gastric cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cetuximab / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Synergism
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Stomach Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / pathology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Berberine
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Cetuximab