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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2007 Nov;323(2):636-49. Epub 2007 Aug 17.

Mitochondrially targeted effects of berberine [Natural Yellow 18, 5,6-dihydro-9,10-dimethoxybenzo(g)-1,3-benzodioxolo(5,6-a) quinolizinium] on K1735-M2 mouse melanoma cells: comparison with direct effects on isolated mitochondrial fractions.

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Center for Neurosciences and Cell Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal.


Berberine [Natural Yellow 18, 5,6-dihydro-9,10-dimethoxybenzo(g)-1,3-benzodioxolo(5,6-a)quinolizinium] is an alkaloid present in plant extracts and has a history of use in traditional Chinese and Native American medicine. Because of its ability to arrest the cell cycle and cause apoptosis of several malignant cell lines, it has received attention as a potential anticancer therapeutic agent. Previous studies suggest that mitochondria may be an important target of berberine, but relatively little is known about the extent or molecular mechanisms of berberine-mitochondrial interactions. The objective of the present work was to investigate the interaction of berberine with mitochondria, both in situ and in isolated mitochondrial fractions. The data show that berberine is selectively accumulated by mitochondria, which is accompanied by arrest of cell proliferation, mitochondrial fragmentation and depolarization, oxidative stress, and a decrease in ATP levels. Electron microscopy of berberine-treated cells shows a reduction in mitochondria-like structures, accompanied by a decrease in mitochondrial DNA copy number. Isolated mitochondrial fractions treated with berberine had slower mitochondrial respiration, especially when complex I substrates were used, and increased complex I-dependent oxidative stress. It is also demonstrated for the first time that berberine stimulates the mitochondrial permeability transition. Direct effects on ATPase activity were not detected. The present work demonstrates a number of previously unknown alterations of mitochondrial physiology induced by berberine, a potential chemotherapeutic agent, although it also suggests that high doses of berberine should not be used without a proper toxicology assessment.

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