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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e25436. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025436. Epub 2011 Sep 27.

Activation of AMP-activated protein kinase is required for berberine-induced reduction of atherosclerosis in mice: the role of uncoupling protein 2.

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Section of Molecular Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States of America.



Berberine, a botanical alkaloid purified from Coptidis rhizoma, is reported to activate the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Whether AMPK is required for the protective effects of berberine in cardiovascular diseases remains unknown. This study was designed to determine whether AMPK is required for berberine-induced reduction of oxidative stress and atherosclerosis in vivo.


ApoE (ApoE⁻/⁻) mice and ApoE⁻/⁻/AMPK alpha 2⁻/⁻ mice that were fed Western diets were treated with berberine for 8 weeks. Atherosclerotic aortic lesions, expression of uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), and markers of oxidative stress were evaluated in isolated aortas.


In ApoE⁻/⁻ mice, chronic administration of berberine significantly reduced aortic lesions, markedly reduced oxidative stress and expression of adhesion molecules in aorta, and significantly increased UCP2 levels. In contrast, in ApoE⁻/⁻/AMPK alpha 2⁻/⁻ mice, berberine had little effect on those endpoints. In cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), berberine significantly increased UCP2 mRNA and protein expression in an AMPK-dependent manner. Transfection of HUVECs with nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF1)-specific siRNA attenuated berberine-induced expression of UCP2, whereas transfection with control siRNA did not. Finally, berberine promoted mitochondrial biogenesis that contributed to up-regulation of UCP2 expression.


We conclude that berberine reduces oxidative stress and vascular inflammation, and suppresses atherogenesis via a mechanism that includes stimulation of AMPK-dependent UCP2 expression.

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