Berberine improves colitis by triggering AhR activation by microbial tryptophan catabolites

Wanghui Jing, Sijing Dong, Xialin Luo, Jingjing Liu, Bin Wei, Wei Du, Lin Yang, Hua Luo, Yitao WANG, Sicen Wang*, Haitao Lu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are kind of recurrent inflammatory issues that occur in the gastrointestinal tract, and currently clinical treatment is still unideal due to the complex pathogenesis of IBD. Basically, gut barrier dysfunction is triggered by gut microbiota dysbiosis that is closely associated with the development of IBD, we thus investigated the therapeutic capacity of berberine (BBR) to improve the dysregulated gut microbiota, against IBD in rats, using a combinational strategy of targeted metabolomics and 16 s rDNA amplicon sequencing technology. Expectedly, our data revealed that BBR administration could greatly improve the pathological phenotype, gut barrier disruption, and the colon inflammation in rats with dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis. In addition, 16S rDNA-based microbiota analysis demonstrated that BBR could alleviate gut dysbiosis in rats. Furthermore, our targeted metabolomics analysis illustrated that the levels of microbial tryptophan catabolites in the gastrointestinal tract were significantly changed during the development of the colitis in rats, and BBR treatment can significantly restore such changes of the tryptophan catabolites accordingly. At last, our in vitro mechanism exploration was implemented with a Caco-2 cell monolayer model, which verified that the modulation of the dysregulated gut microbiota to change microbial metabolites coordinated the improvement effect of BBR on gut barrier disruption in the colitis, and we also confirmed that the activation of AhR induced by microbial metabolites is indispensable to the improvement of gut barrier disruption by BBR. Collectively, BBR has the capacity to treat DSS-induced colitis in rats through the regulation of gut microbiota associated tryptophan metabolite to activate AhR, which can greatly improve the disrupted gut barrier function. Importantly, our finding elucidated a novel mechanism of BBR to improve gut barrier function, which holds the expected capacity to promote the BBR derived drug discovery and development against the colitis in clinic setting.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105358
JournalPharmacological Research
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

User-Defined Keywords

  • AhR activation
  • Berberine
  • gut barrier function
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • microbial tryptophan catabolites


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