Coptis, a traditional medicinal plant, has been used widely in the field of traditional Chinese medicine for many years. More recently, the chemical composition and bioactivity of Coptis have been studied worldwide. Berberine is a main component of Rhizoma Coptidis. Modern medicine has confirmed that berberine has pharmacological activities, such as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, hypolipidemic, and blood pressure-lowering effects. Importantly, the active ingredient of berberine has clear inhibitory effects on various cancers, including colorectal cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, and cervical cancer. Cancer, ranked as one of the world's five major incurable diseases by WHO, is a serious threat to the quality of human life. Here, we try to outline how berberine exerts antitumor effects through the regulation of different molecular pathways. In addition, the berberine-mediated regulation of epigenetic mechanisms that may be associated with the prevention of malignant tumors is described. Thus, this review provides a theoretical basis for the biological functions of berberine and its further use in the clinical treatment of cancer.
Keywords: antitumor; autophagy; berberine; biological activities; epigenetic effects.