Berberine, an isoquinoline alkaloid isolated from the Chinese herb Coptis chinensis and other Berberis plants, has a wide range of pharmacological properties. Berberine can be used to treat many diseases, such as cancer and digestive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. Berberine has protective capacities in digestive diseases. It can inhibit toxins and bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori, protect the intestinal epithelial barrier from injury, and ameliorate liver injury. Berberine also inhibits the proliferation of various types of cancer cells and impedes invasion and metastasis. Recent evidence has confirmed that berberine improves the efficacy and safety of chemoradiotherapies. In addition, berberine regulates glycometabolism and lipid metabolism, improves energy expenditure, reduces body weight, and alleviates nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Berberine also improves cardiovascular hemodynamics, suppresses ischemic arrhythmias, attenuates the development of atherosclerosis, and reduces hypertension. Berberine shows potent neuroprotective effects, including antioxidative, antiapoptotic, and anti-ischemic. Furthermore, berberine exerts protective effects against other diseases. The mechanisms of its functions have been extensively explored, but much remains to be clarified. This article summarizes the main pharmacological actions of berberine and its mechanisms in cancer and digestive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases.
Keywords: Coptis chinensis; berberine; clinical applications; mechanism; pharmacological properties.