Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Berberine moderates glucose metabolism through the GnRH-GLP-1 and MAPK pathways in the intestine

Qian Zhang, Xinhua Xiao*, Ming Li, Wenhui Li, Miao Yu, Huabing Zhang, Fan Ping, Zhixin Wang and Jia Zheng

Author Affiliations

Key Laboratory of Endocrinology, Ministry of Health, Department of Endocrinology, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Peking Union Medical College, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100730, China

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:188  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-188

Published: 9 June 2014



Berberine is known to improve glucose and lipid metabolism disorders, but it poorly absorbed into the blood stream from the gut. Therefore, the exact underlying mechanism for berberine is still unknown. In this study, we investigated the effect of berberine on glucose metabolism in diabetic rats and tested the hypothesis that berberine acts directly in the terminal ileums.


Rats were divided into a control group, diabetic group (DM), low dose of berberine group (BerL) and high dose of berberine group (BerH). Ileum samples were analyzed using a Roche NimbleGen mRNA array, qPCR and immunohistochemistry.


We found that 8 weeks of treatment with berberine significantly decreased fasting blood glucose levels. An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) showed that blood glucose was significantly reduced in the BerL and BerH groups before and at 30 min, 60 min and 120 min after oral glucose administration. Plasma postprandial glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) levels were increased in the berberine-treated groups. The ileum from the BerH group had 2112 genes with significantly changed expression (780 increased, 1332 decreased). KEGG pathway analyses indicated that all differentially expressed genes included 9 KEGG pathways. The top two pathways were the MAPK signaling pathway and the GnRH signaling pathway. Q-RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry verified that glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor (Glp1r) and mitogen activated protein kinase 10 (Mapk10) were significantly up-regulated, in contrast, gonadotropin releasing hormone receptor (Gnrhr) and gonadotropin-releasing hormone 1 (Gnrh1) were down-regulated in the BerH group.


Our data suggest that berberine can improve blood glucose levels in diabetic rats. The mechanisms involved may be in the MAPK and GnRh-Glp-1 pathways in the ileum.

Diabetes; Digestive tract; Gene expression; GnRH