Potential mechanism by which resveratrol, a red wine constituent, protects neurons

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 May:993:276-86; discussion 287-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb07534.x.


Polyphenolic compounds, such as resveratrol, are naturally present at high concentration in grape skin, seeds, and red wine. Resveratrol is present in cis and trans isoforms and the major trans isomer is the biologically active one. Epidemiologic studies have revealed a reduced incidence of cardiovascular risk associated with consumers of red wine; this has been popularized as the French paradox. Resveratrol has been shown to have significant antioxidant properties in a variety of in vitro and in vivo models. It can reduce ischemic damage in heart ischemia reperfusion injury and also in brain ischemia/reperfusion in rodent models. Due to the high rate of oxygen consumption in the brain, and especially low levels of antioxidant defense enzymes, this organ is particularly susceptible of free radical damage. Most of the protective biological actions associated with resveratrol have been associated with its intrinsic radical scavenger properties. We have investigated the possibility of other indirect pathways by which resveratrol can exert its neuroprotective abilities. We have specifically tested whether heme oxygenase neuroprotective enzyme could be stimulated after resveratrol treatment. Using primary neuronal cultures, resveratrol was able to significantly induce heme oxygenase 1, whereas vehicle control showed no effect. No detectable toxicity was quantified. It is well established that after stroke significant levels of intracellular heme levels increase. The source of free heme comes mainly from several heme-containing enzymes. Heme (iron-protoporphyrin IX) is a pro-oxidant and its rapid degradation by heme oxygenase is believed to be protective. Moreover, the generation of heme metabolites can also have their own intrinsic cellular properties. All together, increased heme oxygenase activity by resveratrol is a unique pathway by which this compound can exert its neuroprotective actions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Heme / metabolism
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing) / metabolism
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mice
  • Molecular Structure
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Resveratrol
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology*
  • Wine


  • Antioxidants
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Phenols
  • Stilbenes
  • Heme
  • HMOX1 protein, human
  • Heme Oxygenase (Decyclizing)
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Hmox1 protein, mouse
  • heme oxygenase-2
  • Resveratrol