Berberine: A potential adjunct for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers?

J Cell Biochem. 2018 Dec;119(12):9655-9663. doi: 10.1002/jcb.27392. Epub 2018 Aug 20.


Gastrointestinal cancers are among the most prevalent cancers in the general population. Despite effective early diagnostics and intervention, the gastrointestinal cancer-related mortality still remains elevated. Berberine (BBR) is a benzyl tetra isoquinoline alkaloid exracted from several plants. BBR is nontoxic to human normal cells, but suppresses the growth of different tumor cells: melanoma, epidermoid carcinoma, hepatoma, oral carcinoma, glioblastoma, prostatic carcinoma, and gastric carcinoma. In particular, BBR seems to suppress the proliferation of gastrointestinal cancers in a number of preclinical models. Several mechanisms of action have been hypothesized and demonstrated: immunomodulation, inhibition of topoisomerase enzymes, suppression of the EGF receptor, Her2/neu, and the VEGF receptor, induction of p53, Cip1/p21, Kip1/p27, Rb expression, induction of apoptosis (by regulation of MMPs pathway, caspases, Bax, and Smac/DIABLO), inhibition of arylamin N-acetyltransferase activity, and regulation of microRNAs expression. The aim of this review is to summarize the pharmacological effects of BBR on animal and human gastrointestinal cancers.

Keywords: apoptosis; berberine; cancer; gastrointestinal tract.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Berberine / chemistry
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • MicroRNAs
  • Berberine