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Mutat Res. 2009 Mar 9;662(1-2):75-83. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2008.12.009. Epub 2008 Dec 31.

Berberine induces p53-dependent cell cycle arrest and apoptosis of human osteosarcoma cells by inflicting DNA damage.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Experimental Teratology of Ministry of Education and Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Shandong University School of Medicine, Jinan, Shandong 250012, China.


Alkaloid berberine is widely used for the treatment of diarrhea and other diseases. Many laboratory studies showed that it exhibits anti-proliferative activity against a wide spectrum of cancer cells in culture. In this report we studied the mechanisms underlying the inhibitory effects of berberine on human osteosarcoma cells and on normal osteoblasts. The inhibition was largely attributed to cell cycle arrest at G1 and G2/M, and to a less extent, to apoptosis. The G1 arrest was dependent on p53, as G1 arrest was abolished in p53-deficient osteosarcoma cells. The induction of G1 arrest and apoptosis was accompanied by a p53-dependent up-regulation of p21 and pro-apoptotic genes. However, the G2/M arrest could be induced by berberine regardless of the status of p53. Interestingly, DNA double-strand breaks, as measured by the phosphorylation of H2AX, were remarkably accumulated in berberine-treated cells in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, one major mechanism by which berberine exerts its growth-inhibitory effect is to inflict genomic lesions on cells, which in turn trigger the activation of p53 and the p53-dependent cellular responses including cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.

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