Comparative pharmacokinetics and safety assessment of transdermal berberine and dihydroberberine Academic Article uri icon

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  • The natural alkaloid berberine has been ascribed numerous health benefits including lipid and cholesterol reduction and improved insulin sensitivity in diabetics. However, oral (PO) administration of berberine is hindered by poor bioavailability and increasing dose often elicits gastro-intestinal side effects. To overcome the caveats associated with oral berberine, we developed transdermal (TD) formulations of berberine (BBR) and the berberine precursor dihydroberberine (DHB). These formulations were compared to oral BBR using pharmacokinetics, metabolism, and general safety studies in vivo. To complete this work, a sensitive quantitative LC-MS/MS method was developed and validated according the FDA guidelines for bioanalytical methods to simultaneously measure berberine, simvastatin, and simvastatin hydroxy acid with relative quantification used for the berberine metabolite demethylene berberine glucuronide (DBG). Acute pharmacokinetics in Sprague-Dawley rats demonstrated a statistically relevant ranking for berberine bioavailability based upon AUC0-8 as DHB TD > BBR TD > BBR PO with similar ranking for the metabolite DBG, indicating that transdermal administration achieves BBR levels well above oral administration. Similarly, chronic administration (14 days) resulted in significantly higher levels of circulating BBR and DBG in DHB TD treated animals. Chronically treated rats were given a single dose of simvastatin with no observed change in the drugs bioavailability compared with control, suggesting the increased presence of BBR had no effect on simvastatin metabolism. This observation was further supported by consistent CYP3A4 expression across all treatment groups. Moreover, no changes in kidney and liver biomarkers, including alanine aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase, were observed between treatment formats, and confirming previous reports that BBR has no effect on HMG-CoA expression. This study supports the safe use of transdermal compositions that improve on the poor bioavailability of oral berberine and have the potential to be more efficacious in the treatment of dyslipidemia or hypercholesterolemia.


  • Buchanan, Beth
  • Meng, Qingfang
  • Poulin, Mathieu-Marc
  • Zuccolo, Jonathan
  • Azike, Chike Godwin
  • Gabriele, Joseph
  • Baranowski, David Charles

publication date

  • 2018