, Volume 24, Issue 7–8, pp 644–661 | Cite as

Berberine mitigates IL-21/IL-21R mediated autophagic influx in fibroblast-like synoviocytes and regulates Th17/Treg imbalance in rheumatoid arthritis

  • Palani Dinesh
  • MahaboobKhan RasoolEmail author


In our previous study, we explored the therapeutic effect of berberine (BBR) against IL-21/IL-21R mediated inflammatory proliferation of adjuvant-induced arthritic fibroblast-like synoviocytes (AA-FLS) through the PI3K/Akt pathway. The current study was designed to explore the therapeutic potential of BBR (15–45 µM) against IL-21/IL-21R mediated autophagy in AA-FLS mediated through PI3K/Akt signaling and Th17/Treg imbalance. Upon IL-21 stimulation, AA-FLS expressed elevated levels of autophagy-related 5 (Atg5), Beclin-1 and LC3-phosphatidylethanolamine conjugate 3-II (LC3-II) through the utilization of p62 and inhibition of C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP). BBR (15–45 µM) inhibited autophagy in AA-FLS cells mediated through PI3K/Akt signaling via suppressing autophagic elements, p62 sequestration and induction of CHOP in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, IL-21 promoted the uncontrolled proliferation of AA-FLS through induction of B cell lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2) and diminished expression of Bcl-2 associated X protein (BAX) via PI3K/Akt signaling. BBR inhibited the proliferation of AA-FLS via promoting apoptosis through increased expression of BAX and diminished Bcl-2 transcription factor levels. Furthermore, T cells stimulated with IL-21 induced CD4+ CD196+ Th17 cells proliferation through RORγt activation mediated in a PI3K/Akt dependent manner. BBR inhibited the proliferation of Th17 cells through downregulation of RORγt in a concentration-dependent manner. BBR also promoted the differentiation of CD4+ CD25+ Treg cells through induction of forkhead box P3 (Foxp3) activation via aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) and upregulation of cytochrome P450 family 1, subfamily A, polypeptide 1 (CYP1A1). Collectively, we conclude that BBR might attenuate AA-FLS proliferation through inhibition of IL-21/IL-21R dependent autophagy and regulates the Th17/Treg imbalance in RA.


IL-21/IL-21R p62 RORγt Foxp3 AhR 



Palani Dinesh would like to thank Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for providing financial assistance in the form of Senior Research Fellowship (SRF), [Acknowledgment no: 112290/2K17/1; File no: 09/844(0059)/2018].

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Immunopathology Lab, School of Bio Sciences and TechnologyVellore Institute of TechnologyVelloreIndia
  2. 2.SMV 240, Immunopathology Lab, School of Bio Sciences and TechnologyVITVelloreIndia

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