Berberine and its structural analogs have differing effects on functional profiles of individual gut microbiomes

Gut Microbes. 2020 Sep 2;11(5):1348-1361. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2020.1755413. Epub 2020 May 6.


The understanding of the effects of compounds on the gut microbiome is limited. In particular, it is unclear whether structurally similar compounds would have similar or distinct effects on the gut microbiome. Here, we selected berberine (BBR), an isoquinoline quaternary alkaloid, and 16 structural analogs and evaluated their effects on seven individual gut microbiomes cultured in vitro. The responses of the individual microbiomes were evaluated by metaproteomic profiles and by assessing butyrate production. We show that both interindividual differences and compound treatments significantly contributed to the variance of metaproteomic profiles. BBR and eight analogs led to changes in proteins involved in microbial defense and stress responses and enrichment of proteins from Verrucomicrobia, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes phyla. It also led to a decrease in proteins from the Firmicutes phylum and its Clostridiales order which correlated to decrease proteins involved in the butyrate production pathway and butyrate concentration. Three of the compounds, sanguinarine, chelerythrine, and ethoxysanguinarine, activated bacterial protective mechanisms, enriched Proteobacteria, increased opacity proteins, and markedly reduced butyrate production. Dihydroberberine had a similar function to BBR in enriching the Akkermansia genus. In addition, it showed less overall adverse impacts on the functionality of the gut microbiome, including a better maintenance of the butyrate level. Our study shows that ex vivo microbiome assay can assess differential regulating effects of compounds with subtle differences and reveals that compound analogs can have distinct effects on the microbiome.

Keywords: Akkermansia; Gut microbiome; berberine; butyrate; functionality; metaproteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteroidetes / drug effects*
  • Bacteroidetes / growth & development
  • Bacteroidetes / metabolism
  • Berberine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Berberine / chemistry
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Biological Variation, Population
  • Butyrates / metabolism
  • Firmicutes / drug effects*
  • Firmicutes / growth & development
  • Firmicutes / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Molecular Structure
  • Proteobacteria / drug effects*
  • Proteobacteria / growth & development
  • Proteobacteria / metabolism
  • Proteomics
  • Verrucomicrobia / drug effects*
  • Verrucomicrobia / growth & development
  • Verrucomicrobia / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Butyrates
  • Berberine
  • dihydroberberine

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