Berberine binds RXRα to suppress β-catenin signaling in colon cancer cells

Oncogene. 2017 Dec 14;36(50):6906-6918. doi: 10.1038/onc.2017.296. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Berberine, an isoquinoline alkaloid, is a traditional oriental medicine used to treat diarrhea and gastroenteritis. Recently, we reported that it could inhibit the growth of intestinal polyp in animals and in patients with the familial adenomatous polyposis by downregulating β-catenin signaling. However, the intracellular target mediating the effects of berberine remains elusive. Here, we provide evidence that berberine inhibits β-catenin function via directly binding to a unique region comprising residues Gln275, Arg316 and Arg371 in nuclear receptor retinoid X receptor alpha (RXRα), where berberine concomitantly binding to and synergistically activating RXRα with 9-cis-retinoic acid (9-cis-RA), a natural ligand binding to the classical ligand-binding pocket of RXRα. Berberine binding promotes RXRα interaction with nuclear β-catenin, leading to c-Cbl mediated degradation of β-catenin, and consequently inhibits the proliferation of colon cancer cells. Furthermore, berberine suppresses the growth of human colon carcinoma xenograft in nude mice in an RXRα-dependent manner. Together, our study not only identifies RXRα as a direct protein target for berberine but also dissects their binding mode and validates that berberine indeed suppresses β-catenin signaling and cell growth in colon cancer via binding RXRα, which provide new strategies for the design of new RXRα-based antitumor agents and drug combinations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Berberine / metabolism
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Berberine / therapeutic use
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Retinoid X Receptor alpha / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • beta Catenin / physiology*


  • Retinoid X Receptor alpha
  • beta Catenin
  • Berberine