Berberine alters gut microbial function through modulation of bile acids

Patricia G. Wolf, Saravanan Devendran, Heidi L. Doden, Lindsey K. Ly, Tyler Moore, Hajime Takei, Hiroshi Nittono, Tsuyoshi Murai, Takao Kurosawa, George E. Chlipala, Stefan J. Green, Genta Kakiyama, Purna Kashyap, Vance J. McCracken, H. Rex Gaskins, Patrick M. Gillevet, Jason M. Ridlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Berberine (BBR) is a plant-based nutraceutical that has been used for millennia to treat diarrheal infections and in contemporary medicine to improve patient lipid profiles. Reduction in lipids, particularly cholesterol, is achieved partly through up-regulation of bile acid synthesis and excretion into the gastrointestinal tract (GI). The efficacy of BBR is also thought to be dependent on structural and functional alterations of the gut microbiome. However, knowledge of the effects of BBR on gut microbiome communities is currently lacking. Distinguishing indirect effects of BBR on bacteria through altered bile acid profiles is particularly important in understanding how dietary nutraceuticals alter the microbiome. Results: Germfree mice were colonized with a defined minimal gut bacterial consortium capable of functional bile acid metabolism (Bacteroides vulgatus, Bacteroides uniformis, Parabacteroides distasonis, Bilophila wadsworthia, Clostridium hylemonae, Clostridium hiranonis, Blautia producta; B4PC2). Multi-omics (bile acid metabolomics, 16S rDNA sequencing, cecal metatranscriptomics) were performed in order to provide a simple in vivo model from which to identify network-based correlations between bile acids and bacterial transcripts in the presence and absence of dietary BBR. Significant alterations in network topology and connectivity in function were observed, despite similarity in gut microbial alpha diversity (P = 0.30) and beta-diversity (P = 0.123) between control and BBR treatment. BBR increased cecal bile acid concentrations, (P < 0.05), most notably deoxycholic acid (DCA) (P < 0.001). Overall, analysis of transcriptomes and correlation networks indicates both bacterial species-specific responses to BBR, as well as functional commonalities among species, such as up-regulation of Na+/H+ antiporter, cell wall synthesis/repair, carbohydrate metabolism and amino acid metabolism. Bile acid concentrations in the GI tract increased significantly during BBR treatment and developed extensive correlation networks with expressed genes in the B4PC2 community. Conclusions: This work has important implications for interpreting the effects of BBR on structure and function of the complex gut microbiome, which may lead to targeted pharmaceutical interventions aimed to achieve the positive physiological effects previously observed with BBR supplementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalBMC microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Berberine
  • Bile acids
  • Gnotobiotic mice
  • Gut bacteria
  • Network analysis
  • Nutraceutical
  • RNA-Seq

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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