The effects of Ginkgo biloba leaf extract on rat brain or livermonoamine oxidase (MAO)-A and -B activity, biogenic amine concentration in nervous tissue, N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)- and N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine (DSP-4)-induced neurotoxicity and antioxidant activity was investigated to determine the effects of the extract on monoamine catabolism and neuroprotection. Ginkgo biloba leaf extract was shown to produce in-vitro inhibition of rat brain MAO-A and -B. The Ginkgo biloba extract was chromatographed on a reverse-phase HPLC system and two of the components isolated were shown to be MAO inhibitors (MAOIs). These MAOIs were identified by high-resolution mass spectrometry as kaempferol and isorhamnetin. Pure kaempferol and a number of related flavonoids were examined as MAOIs in-vitro. Kaempferol, apigenin and chrysin proved to be potent MAOIs, but produced more pronounced inhibition of MAO-A than MAO-B. IC50 (50% inhibition concentration) values for the ability of these three flavones to inhibit MAO-A were 7 x 10(-7), 1 x 10(-6) and 2 x 10(-6) M, respectively. Ginkgo biloba leaf extract and kaempferol were found to have no effect ex-vivo on rat or mouse brain MAO or on concentrations of dopamine, noradrenaline, 5-hydroxytryptamine and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid. Kaempferol was shown to protect against NMDA-induced neuronal toxicity in-vitro in rat cortical cultures, but did not prevent DSP-4-induced noradrenergic neurotoxicity in an in-vivo model. Both Ginkgo biloba extract and kaempferol were demonstrated to be antioxidants in a lipid-peroxidation assay. This data indicates that the MAO-inhibiting activity of Ginkgo biloba extract is primarily due to the presence of kaempferol. Ginkgo biloba extract has properties indicative of potential neuroprotective ability.