The histological spectrum of nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD) ranges from hepatic steatosis to steatohepatitis and fibrosis. Berberine (BBR) is known for its therapeutic effect on obesity, hyperglycaemia and dyslipidaemia; however, its effect on NAFLD has yet to be thoroughly explored. Db/db mice and methionine-choline-deficient diet-fed mice were administered BBR via gavage. We found that BBR-treated mice were more resistant to steatosis in the liver than vehicle-treated mice and that BBR significantly reduced hepatic inflammation, fibrosis and lipid peroxides. The beneficial effect of BBR was associated with suppressing endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. Additionally, BBR decreased the free fatty acid-induced lipid accumulation and tunicamycin-induced ER stress in primary hepatocytes and hepatocyte cell lines. We demonstrated that BBR exhibited chaperone activity, reduced protein aggregation in vitro and alleviated tunicamycin-induced triglyceride and collagen deposition in vivo. Finally, we showed that BBR could reverse ER stress-activated lipogenesis through the ATF6/SREBP-1c pathway in vitro. These results indicated that BBR may be a new therapeutic strategy against hepatic steatosis and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
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