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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2013 Nov 1;272(3):787-96. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2013.08.008. Epub 2013 Aug 15.

Berberine, a natural antidiabetes drug, attenuates glucose neurotoxicity and promotes Nrf2-related neurite outgrowth.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung 80708, Taiwan; Graduate Institute of Medicine, College of Medicine, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung 80708, Taiwan.


Reactive oxygen intermediates production and apoptotic damage induced by high glucose are major causes of neuronal damage in diabetic neuropathy. Berberine (BBR), a natural antidiabetes drug with PI3K-activating activity, holds promise for diabetes because of its dual antioxidant and anti-apoptotic activities. We have previously reported that BBR attenuated H2O2 neurotoxicity via activating the PI3K/Akt/Nrf2-dependent pathway. In this study, we further explored the novel protective mechanism of BBR on high glucose-induced apoptotic death and neurite damage of SH-SY5Y cells. Results indicated BBR (0.1-10 nM) significantly attenuated reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, nucleus condensation, and apoptotic death in high glucose-treated cells. However, AG1024, an inhibitor of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) receptor, significantly abolished BBR protection against high glucose-induced neuronal death. BBR also increased Bcl-2 expression and decreased cytochrome c release. High glucose down-regulated IGF-1 receptor and phosphorylation of Akt and GSK-3β, the effects of which were attenuated by BBR treatment. BBR also activated nuclear erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), the key antioxidative transcription factor, which is accompanied with up-regulation of hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1). Furthermore, BBR markedly enhanced nerve growth factor (NGF) expression and promoted neurite outgrowth in high glucose-treated cells. To further determine the role of the Nrf2 in BBR neuroprotection, RNA interference directed against Nrf2 was used. Results indicated Nrf2 siRNA abolished BBR-induced HO-1, NGF, neurite outgrowth and ROS decrease. In conclusion, BBR attenuated high glucose-induced neurotoxicity, and we are the first to reveal this novel mechanism of BBR as an Nrf2 activator against glucose neurotoxicity, providing another potential therapeutic use of BBR on the treatment of diabetic complications.


3-(4,5-dimethyl- thiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-tetrazolium bromide; B-cell lymphoma 2; BBR; Bcl-2; Berberine; Glucose toxicity; HO-1; Hemeoxygenase-1; IGF-1; Insulin growth factor-1; LDH; Lactate dehydrogenase; MTT; NGF; Nerve growth factor; Neurite outgrowth; Neuroprotection; Nrf2; Nrf2/HO-1; Nuclear erythroid 2-related factor 2; ROS; Reactive oxygen species

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