March 29, 2013

Plant compound stops colon cancer cells

Berberine, an herbal remedy for diarrhea and intestinal parasites, may be useful in colon cancer therapy.


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. Recent studies have found that berberine inhibits the growth of a range of tumor cell lines.

Fang Yan, M.D., Ph.D., research associate professor of Pediatrics, and colleagues studied the effects of berberine on colon tumor cell lines in vitro and in vivo. They found that berberine inhibits activation of the EGF receptor – a protein that promotes tumor growth – and reduces cell proliferation of mouse and human colon cancer cell lines. They showed that berberine stimulates the activity of a protein called Cbl, which “marks” the EGF receptor for degradation. They also demonstrated that berberine reduces cell proliferation and EGF receptor expression, and suppresses tumor growth in a mouse model of colon cancer.

The findings, reported Feb. 14 in PLoS ONE, reveal a novel mechanism of berberine action and suggest that this naturally occurring plant compound may be useful in colon cancer therapy.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (DK081134, DK056008) and from the National Nature Science Foundation of China.