Berberine is a famous alkaloid extracted from Berberis plants and has been widely used as medications and functional food additives. Recent studies reveal that berberine exhibits neuroprotective activity in animal models of Parkinson’s disease (PD), the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disorders all over the world. However, the actual site of anti-PD action of berberine remains largely unknown. To this end, we employed a fluorescently labeled berberine derivative BBRP to investigate the subcellular localization and blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability in a cellular model of PD and zebrafish PD model. Biological investigations revealed that BBRP retained the neuroprotective activity of berberine against PD-like symptoms in PC12 cells and zebrafish, such as protecting 6-OHDA induced cell death, relieving MPTP induced PD-like behavior and increasing dopaminergic neuron loss in zebrafish. We also found that BBRP could readily penetrate BBB and function in the brain of zebrafish suffering from PD. Subcellular localization study indicated that BBRP could rapidly and specifically accumulate in mitochondria of PC12 cells when it exerted anti-PD effect. In addition, BBRP could suppress accumulation of Pink1 protein and inhibit the overexpression of LC3 protein in 6-OHDA damaged cells. All these results suggested that the potential site of action of berberine is mitochondria in the brain under the PD condition. Therefore, the findings described herein would be useful for further development of berberine as an anti-PD drug.Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Inc.
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