In the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) signs of neuronal degeneration are accompanied by markers of microglial activation, inflammation, and oxidant damage. The presence of nitrotyrosine in the cell bodies of neurons in AD suggests that peroxynitrite contributes to the pathogenesis of the disease. A drug with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity may prevent neuronal degeneration in AD. Celastrol, a plant-derived triterpene, has these effects. In low nanomolar concentrations celastrol was found to suppress the production by human monocytes and macrophages of the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha and IL-1beta. Celastrol also decreased the induced expression of class II MHC molecules by microglia. In macrophage lineage cells and endothelial cells celastrol decreased induced but not constitutive NO production. Celastrol suppressed adjuvant arthritis in the rat, demonstrating in vivo anti-inflammatory activity. Low doses of celastrol administered to rats significantly improved their performance in memory, learning and psychomotor activity tests. The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of celastrol, and its effects on cognitive functions, suggest that the drug may be useful to treat neurodegenerative diseases accompanied by inflammation, such as AD.