Berberine is multifunctional natural product with potential to treat diverse pathological conditions. Its broad-spectrum anticancer effect through direct effect on cancer cell growth and metastasis have been established both in vitro and in vivo. The cellular targets that account to the anticancer effect of berberine are incredibly large and range from kinases (protein kinase B (Akt), mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs), cell cycle checkpoint kinases, etc.) and transcription factors to genes and protein regulators of cell survival, motility and death. The direct effect of berberine in cancer cells is however relatively weak and occur at moderate concentration range (10–100 µM) in most cancer cells. The poor pharmacokinetics profile resulting from poor absorption, efflux by permeability-glycoprotein (P-gc) and extensive metabolism in intestinal and hepatic cells are other dimensions of berberine’s limitation as anticancer agent. This communication addresses the research efforts during the last two decades that were devoted to enhancing the anticancer potential of berberine. Strategies highlighted include using berberine in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents either to reduce toxic side effects or enhance their anticancer effects; the various novel formulation approaches which by order of magnitude improved the pharmacokinetics of berberine; and semisynthetic approaches that enhanced potency by up to 100-fold.
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