Berberine protects against diabetic kidney disease via promoting PGC-1α-regulated mitochondrial energy homeostasis

Br J Pharmacol. 2020 Aug;177(16):3646-3661. doi: 10.1111/bph.14935. Epub 2020 Jul 7.


Background and purpose: Disordered lipid metabolism and disturbed mitochondrial bioenergetics play pivotal roles in the initiation and development of diabetic kidney disease (DKD). Berberine is a plant alkaloid, used in Chinese herbal medicine. It has multiple therapeutic actions on diabetes mellitus and its complications, including regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism, improvement of insulin sensitivity, and alleviation of oxidative damage. Here, we investigated the reno-protective effects of berberine.

Experimental approach: We used samples from DKD patients and experiments with models of DKD (db/db mice) and cultured podocytes, to characterize energy metabolism profiles using metabolomics. Molecular targets and mechanisms involved in the regulation of mitochondrial function and bioenergetics by berberine were investigated, along with its effects on metabolic alterations in DKD mice.

Key results: Metabolomic analysis suggested altered mitochondrial fuel usage and generalized mitochondrial dysfunction in patients with DKD. In db/db mice, berberine treatment reversed the disordered metabolism, podocyte damage and glomerulosclerosis. Lipid accumulation, excessive generation of mitochondrial ROS, mitochondrial dysfunction, and deficient fatty acid oxidation in DKD mouse models and in cultured podocytes were suppressed by berberine. These protective effects of berberine were accompanied by activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator-1α (PGC-1α) signalling pathway, which promoted mitochondrial energy homeostasis and fatty acid oxidation in podocytes.

Conclusion and implications: PGC-1α-mediated mitochondrial bioenergetics could play a key role in lipid disorder-induced podocyte damage and development of DKD in mice. Restoration of PGC-1α activity and the energy homeostasis by berberine might be a potential therapeutic strategy against DKD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't