Berberine and Its More Biologically Available Derivative, Dihydroberberine, Inhibit Mitochondrial Respiratory Complex I

A Mechanism for the Action of Berberine to Activate AMP-Activated Protein Kinase and Improve Insulin Action

  1. Nigel Turner1,
  2. Jing-Ya Li12,
  3. Alison Gosby1,
  4. Sabrina W.C. To1,
  5. Zhe Cheng2,
  6. Hiroyuki Miyoshi3,
  7. Makoto M. Taketo3,
  8. Gregory J. Cooney1,
  9. Edward W. Kraegen1,
  10. David E. James1,
  11. Li-Hong Hu2,
  12. Jia Li2 and
  13. Ji-Ming Ye1
  1. 1Diabetes and Obesity Research Program, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Darlinghurst, Australia
  2. 2Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China
  3. 3Department of Pharmacology, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
  1. Corresponding authors: Ji-Ming Ye, PhD, Diabetes and Obesity Research Program, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, 384 Victoria St., Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales 2010, Australia. E-mail:{at}; Jia Li, PhD, or Li-Hong Hu, PhD, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, 199 Guo Shou Jing Rd., Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, Shanghai 201203, China. E-mail: jli{at} or simmhull{at}


OBJECTIVE—Berberine (BBR) activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and improves insulin sensitivity in rodent models of insulin resistance. We investigated the mechanism of activation of AMPK by BBR and explored whether derivatization of BBR could improve its in vivo efficacy.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—AMPK phosphorylation was examined in L6 myotubes and LKB1−/− cells, with or without the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase (CAMKK) inhibitor STO-609. Oxygen consumption was measured in L6 myotubes and isolated muscle mitochondria. The effect of a BBR derivative, dihydroberberine (dhBBR), on adiposity and glucose metabolism was examined in rodents fed a high-fat diet.

RESULTS—We have made the following novel observations: 1) BBR dose-dependently inhibited respiration in L6 myotubes and muscle mitochondria, through a specific effect on respiratory complex I, similar to that observed with metformin and rosiglitazone; 2) activation of AMPK by BBR did not rely on the activity of either LKB1 or CAMKKβ, consistent with major regulation at the level of the AMPK phosphatase; and 3) a novel BBR derivative, dhBBR, was identified that displayed improved in vivo efficacy in terms of counteracting increased adiposity, tissue triglyceride accumulation, and insulin resistance in high-fat–fed rodents. This effect is likely due to enhanced oral bioavailability.

CONCLUSIONS—Complex I of the respiratory chain represents a major target for compounds that improve whole-body insulin sensitivity through increased AMPK activity. The identification of a novel derivative of BBR with improved in vivo efficacy highlights the potential importance of BBR as a novel therapy for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.


  • Published ahead of print at on 19 February 2008. DOI: 10.2337/db07-1552.

    Additional information for this article can be found in an online appendix at

    N.T., J-Y.L., and A.G. contributed equally to this work.

    The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

    • Accepted February 12, 2008.
    • Received October 31, 2007.
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  1. Diabetes vol. 57 no. 5 1414-1418
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