A gene expression signature-based approach reveals the mechanisms of action of the Chinese herbal medicine berberine

Kuen Haur Lee, Hsiang Ling Lo, Wan Chun Tang, Heidi Hao Yun Hsiao, Pei Ming Yang

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Berberine (BBR), a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, was shown to display anticancer activity. In this study, we attempted to provide a global view of the molecular pathways associated with its anticancer effect through a gene expression-based chemical approach. BBR-induced differentially expressed genes obtained from the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) were analyzed using the Connectivity Map (CMAP) database to compare similarities of gene expression profiles between BBR and CMAP compounds. Candidate compounds were further analyzed using the Search Tool for Interactions of Chemicals (STITCH) database to explore chemical-protein interactions. Results showed that BBR may inhibit protein synthesis, histone deacetylase (HDAC), or AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways. Further analyses demonstrated that BBR inhibited global protein synthesis and basal AKT activity, and induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and autophagy, which was associated with activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). However, BBR did not alter mTOR or HDAC activities. Interestingly, BBR induced the acetylation of α -tubulin, a substrate of HDAC6. In addition, the combination of BBR and SAHA, a pan-HDAC inhibitor, synergistically inhibited cell proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest. Our results provide novel insights into the mechanisms of action of BBR in cancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6394
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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