Berberine displays antitumor activity in esophageal cancer cells in vitro

World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Apr 14;23(14):2511-2518. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i14.2511.


Aim: To investigate the effects of berberine on esophageal cancer (EC) cells and its molecular mechanisms.

Methods: Human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cell line KYSE-70 and esophageal adenocarcinoma cell line SKGT4 were used. The effects of berberine on cell proliferation were evaluated using the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. For cell cycle progression, KYSE-70 cells were stained with propidium iodide (PI) staining buffer (10 mg/mL PI and 100 mg/mL RNase A) for 30 min and cell cycle was analyzed using a BD FACSCalibur flow cytometer. For apoptosis assay, cells were stained with an Annexin V-FITC/PI apoptosis detection kit. The rate of apoptotic cells was analyzed using a dual laser flow cytometer and estimated using BD ModFit software. Levels of proteins related to cell cycle and apoptosis were examined by western blotting.

Results: Berberine treatment resulted in growth inhibition of KYSE-70 and SKGT4 cells in a dose-dependent and time-dependent manner. KYSE-70 cells were more susceptible to the inhibitory activities of berberine than SKGT4 cells were. In KYSE-70 cells treated with 50 μmol/L berberine for 48 h, the number of cells in G2/M phase (25.94% ± 5.01%) was significantly higher than that in the control group (9.77% ± 1.28%, P < 0.01), and berberine treatment resulted in p21 up-regulation in KYSE-70 cells. Flow cytometric analyses showed that berberine significantly augmented the KYSE-70 apoptotic population at 12 and 24 h post-treatment, when compared with control cells (0.83% vs 43.78% at 12 h, P < 0.05; 0.15% vs 81.86% at 24 h, P < 0.01), and berberine-induced apoptotic effect was stronger at 24 h compared with 12 h. Western blotting showed that berberine inhibited the phosphorylation of Akt, mammalian target of rapamycin and p70S6K, and enhanced AMP-activated protein kinase phosphorylation in a sustained manner.

Conclusion: Berberine is an inhibitor of human EC cell growth and could be considered as a potential drug for the treatment of EC patients.

Keywords: Antitumor activity; Apoptosis; Berberine; Cell cycle; Esophageal cancer; Proliferation.

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • G2 Phase Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / metabolism
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Berberine
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases

Supplementary concepts

  • Adenocarcinoma Of Esophagus