Berberine, a Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reduces Inflammation in Adipose Tissue, Polarizes M2 Macrophages, and Increases Energy Expenditure in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet

Med Sci Monit. 2019 Jan 4;25:87-97. doi: 10.12659/MSM.911849.


BACKGROUND The uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) gene has a role in mitochondrial energy expenditure in brown adipose tissue. This study aimed to investigate the effects of berberine, a benzylisoquinoline alkaloid used in traditional Chinese medicine, on energy expenditure, expression of the UCP1 gene, the cell stress protein inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α), apoptosis genes, and macrophage phenotype (M1 and M2) in white and brown adipose tissue in an obese mouse model fed a high-fat diet. MATERIAL AND METHODS Four-week-old C57BL/6J male mice (n=20) were divided into a high-fat diet group, a normal diet group, a group treated with berberine at 100 mg/kg/d in 0.9% normal saline, and a non-treated group. Whole-body fat mass, blood glucose, insulin resistance, and oxygen expenditure during physical activity were measured. After 16 weeks, the mice were euthanized for examination of liver and adipose tissue. The expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, apoptosis genes, thermogenic genes (including UCP1), and IRE1α, were investigated using immunohistochemistry, Western blot, and quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), in white and brown adipose tissue. Magnetic cell sorting harvested M1 and M2 macrophages in adipose tissue. Clodronate liposomes were used to inhibit macrophage recruitment. RESULTS Berberine treatment in mice fed a high-fat diet increased energy metabolism, glucose tolerance, and expression of UCP1, and reduced expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, macrophage recruitment, and resulted in M2 macrophage polarization in white adipose tissue. Polarized M2 macrophages showed reduced expression of apoptotic genes and IRE1α. CONCLUSIONS Berberine improved metabolic function in a mouse model fed a high-fat diet.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • China
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Endoribonucleases / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Macrophage Activation / drug effects
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / drug effects
  • Uncoupling Protein 1 / drug effects


  • Ucp1 protein, mouse
  • Uncoupling Protein 1
  • Berberine
  • Ern1 protein, mouse
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Endoribonucleases