Promising Anti-atherosclerotic Effect of Berberine: Evidence from In Vitro, In Vivo, and Clinical Studies

Rev Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 2020 Aug 14. doi: 10.1007/112_2020_42. Online ahead of print.


Elevated levels of plasma cholesterol, impaired vascular wall, and presence of inflammatory macrophages are important atherogenic risk factors contributing to atherosclerotic plaque formation and progression. The interventions modulating these risk factors have been found to protect against atherosclerosis development and to decrease atherosclerosis-related cardiovascular disorders. Nutritional approaches involving supplements followed by improving dietary habits and lifestyle have become growingly attractive and acceptable methods used to control atherosclerosis risk factors, mainly high levels of plasma cholesterol. There are a large number of studies that show berberine, a plant bioactive compound, could ameliorate atherosclerosis-related risk factors. In the present literature review, we put together this studies and provide integrated evidence that exhibits berberine has the potential atheroprotective effect through reducing increased levels of plasma cholesterol, particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (LDL-C) via LDL receptor (LDLR)-dependent and LDL receptor-independent mechanisms, inhibiting migration and inflammatory activity of macrophages, improving the functionality of endothelial cells via anti-oxidant activities, and suppressing proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells. In conclusion, berberine can exert inhibitory effects on the atherosclerotic plaque development mainly through LDL-lowering activity and suppressing atherogenic functions of mentioned cells. As the second achievement of this review, among the signaling pathways through which berberine regulates intracellular processes, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) has a central and critical role, showing that enhancing activity of AMPK pathway can be considered as a promising therapeutic approach for atherosclerosis treatment.

Keywords: AMP-activated protein kinase; Atherosclerosis; Berberine; Cholesterol; Endothelial cells; LDL-C; Macrophage dysfunction; Vascular smooth muscle cell.