Huperzine A, a novel Lycopodium alkaloid originally discovered in the Chinese herb Qian Ceng Ta (Huperzia serrata), is a reversible, potent, and selective acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor and has been extensively used for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in China. The present studies were designed to investigate effects of huperzine A on amyloid beta-peptide fragment 25-35 (Abeta25-35)-induced neuronal apoptosis and potential mechanisms in primary cultured rat cortical neurons. After exposure of the cells to Abeta25-35 (20 microM), apoptotic cell death was observed as evidenced by a significant decrease in cell viability, alteration of neuronal morphology, and DNA fragmentation. Pretreatment of the cells with huperzine A (0.01-10 microM) prior to Abeta25-35 exposure significantly elevated the cell survival and reduced Abeta25-35-induced nuclei fragmentation. Reactive oxygen species (ROS)-based fluorescence, caspase-3-like fluorogenic cleavage, and Western blot analysis demonstrated that huperzine A reduced Abeta25-35-induced ROS formation in a dose-dependent manner, and 1 microM of huperzine A attenuated Abeta25-35-induced caspase-3 activity at 6, 12, 24, and 48 hr posttreatment. Our results provide the first direct evidence that huperzine A protects neurons against Abeta25-35-induced apoptosis via the inhibition of ROS formation and caspase-3 activity.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.