Mitochondria and NMDA Receptor-Dependent Toxicity of Berberine Sensitizes Neurons to Glutamate and Rotenone Injury
AuthorKysenius, K; Brunello, CA; Huttunen, HJ
Source TitlePLoS One
PublisherPUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE
University of Melbourne Author/sKysenius, Kai
AffiliationPharmacology and Therapeutics
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsKysenius, K., Brunello, C. A. & Huttunen, H. J. (2014). Mitochondria and NMDA Receptor-Dependent Toxicity of Berberine Sensitizes Neurons to Glutamate and Rotenone Injury. PLOS ONE, 9 (9), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107129.
Access StatusOpen Access
The global incidence of metabolic and age-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, is on the rise. In addition to traditional pharmacotherapy, drug candidates from complementary and alternative medicine are actively being pursued for further drug development. Berberine, a nutraceutical traditionally used as an antibiotic, has recently been proposed to act as a multi-target protective agent against type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemias, ischemic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. However, the safety profile of berberine remains controversial, as isolated reports suggest risks with acute toxicity, bradycardia and exacerbation of neurodegeneration. We report that low micromolar berberine causes rapid mitochondria-dependent toxicity in primary neurons characterized by mitochondrial swelling, increased oxidative stress, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential and depletion of ATP content. Berberine does not induce caspase-3 activation and the resulting neurotoxicity remains unaffected by pan-caspase inhibitor treatment. Interestingly, inhibition of NMDA receptors by memantine and MK-801 completely blocked berberine-induced neurotoxicity. Additionally, subtoxic nanomolar concentrations of berberine were sufficient to sensitize neurons to glutamate excitotoxicity and rotenone injury. Our study highlights the need for further safety assessment of berberine, especially due to its tendency to accumulate in the CNS and the risk of potential neurotoxicity as a consequence of increasing bioavailability of berberine.
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