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Oncotarget. 2017 Sep 11;9(11):10135-10146. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.20807. eCollection 2018 Feb 9.

Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Research Institute of Digestive Diseases, The First Hospital of Nanchang University, Nanchang, China.
Jiangxi Provincial Key Laboratory of Tumour Pathogenesis and Molecular Pathology, Department of Pathophysiology, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Nanchang University, Nanchang, China.
Department of Biochemistry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.


Metformin has been used as a glucose lowering drug for several centuries and is now a first-line drug for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Since the discovery that it activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and reduces risk of cancer, metformin has drawn great attentions. Another drug, berberine, extracted from berberis vulgaris L. (root), was an ancient herbal medicine in treating diarrhea. Ongoing experimental and clinical studies have illuminated great potential of berberine in regulation of glucose and lipid homeostasis, cancer growth and inflammation. Furthermore, the lipid lowering effect of berberine is comparable to those conventional lipid drugs but with low toxicity. Therefore, it is right time to transform beneficial effects of berberine into therapeutic practice. Metformin and berberine share many features in actions despite different structure and both could be excellent drugs in treating T2DM, obesity, cardiac diseases, tumour, as well as inflammation. Since these disorders are often connected and comprise common pathogenic factors that could be targeted by the two drugs, understanding their actions can give us rationale for expansion of their clinical uses.


berberine; metabolic diseases; metformin; tumour

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