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PLoS One. 2011 Apr 5;6(4):e18467. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018467.

Berberine chloride mediates its anti-leishmanial activity via differential regulation of the mitogen activated protein kinase pathway in macrophages.

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Department of Pharmacology, Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Kolkata, India.



A complex interplay between Leishmania and macrophages influences parasite survival and necessitates disruption of signaling molecules, eventually resulting in impairment of macrophage function. In this study, we demonstrate the immunomodulatory activity of Berberine chloride in Leishmania infected macrophages.


The IC(50) of Berberine chloride, a quaternary isoquinoline alkaloid was tested in an amastigote macrophage model and its safety index measured by a cell viability assay. It eliminated intracellular amastigotes, the IC(50) being 2.8 fold lower than its IC(50) in promastigotes (7.10 µM vs. 2.54 µM) and showed a safety index >16. Levels of intracellular and extracellular nitric oxide (NO) as measured by flow cytometry and Griess assay respectively showed that Berberine chloride in Leishmania infected macrophages increased production of NO. Measurement of the mRNA expression of iNOS, IL-12 and IL-10 by RT-PCR along with levels of IL-12p40 and IL-10 by ELISA showed that in infected macrophages, Berberine chloride enhanced expression of iNOS and IL-12p40, concomitant with a downregulation of IL-10. The phosphorylation status of extracellular signal related kinase (ERK1/2) and p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK) was studied by western blotting. In infected macrophages, Berberine chloride caused a time dependent activation of p38 MAPK along with deactivation of ERK1/2; addition of a p38 MAPK inhibitor SB203580 inhibited the increased generation of NO and IL-12p40 by Berberine chloride as also prevented its decrease of IL-10.


Berberine chloride modulated macrophage effector responses via the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, highlighting the importance of MAPKs as an antiparasite target.

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