Berberine has shown anticancer properties and has potential for a chemopreventive and/or chemotherapeutic agent for breast cancer. Berberine showed cytotoxicity to breast cancer cells, with an increase in the levels of p21/cip1 and p27/kip1, cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CDKI), but mechanisms involved in up-regulating these molecules are largely unknown. Herein, we studied the key regulatory mechanisms involved in berberine-mediated up-regulation of p21/cip1 and p27/kip1. Berberine treatment for 24 and 48 h decreased the number of cells by 44-84% (P < 0.0001) and 38-78% (P < 0.0001), and increased cell death by 12-17% (P < 0.005) and 38-78% (P < 0.0001) in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells, respectively. Cells were arrested in G1 phase by berberine which was accompanied with up-regulation of mRNA and protein level of both p21/cip1 and p27/kip1. Berberine decreased the expression of protein levels of cyclin D1, cyclin E, CDK2, CDK4, and CDK6 to cause G1 phase arrest. Berberine caused nuclear localization of p21/cip1 in both the cell lines. Our data for the first time showed that the post-translational stability of both the proteins was strongly increased by berberine as examined by cycloheximide chase assay. Inhibition of Akt was associated with berberine-mediated up-regulation of p21/cip1 and also led to a decrease in cell viability accompanied with significant G1 phase cell cycle arrest. Our study revealed that berberine not only up-regulates mRNA and protein levels of p21/cip1 and p27/kip1 but also increases their nuclear localization and post-translational protein stability. Further, Akt inhibition was found to mediate berberine-mediated up-regulation of p21/cip1 but not the p27/kip1.
Keywords: Berberine; Breast cancer; Nuclear localization; Post-translational stability; p21/cip1; p27/kip1.