April 6, 2012

Plant compound quells inflammation

Berberine, an herbal remedy for diarrhea and intestinal parasites, may be an effective treatment for gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, is characterized by chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract. Developing new strategies to treat IBD has been a challenge.


Berberine, a compound found in plants including barberry and Oregon grape, has been used as an herbal medicine to treat bacteria-associated diarrhea and intestinal parasitic infections. Fang Yan, research associate professor of pediatrics, and colleagues explored the effect of berberine in a mouse model of intestinal injury and colitis (caused by dextran sulfate sodium, DSS). They report in the March AJP – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology that berberine promotes recovery of DSS-induced colitis. It mitigates weight loss, shortening of the colon, intestinal injury and inflammation. The researchers demonstrated the berberine reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine levels by inhibiting signaling pathways involved in cytokine production in colonic macrophages and epithelial cells, and that it preserves barrier function in the colon of DSS-treated mice.

The findings suggest that berberine may represent a new therapeutic approach for treating gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, by the Vanderbilt University Digestive Disease Research Center, and by the Department of Veterans Affairs.