Inhibition of acetylcholinesterase by Tea Tree oil

J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004 Mar;56(3):375-9. doi: 10.1211/0022357022773.


Pediculosis is a widespread condition reported in schoolchildren. Treatment most commonly involves the physical removal of nits using fine-toothcombs and the chemical treatment of adult lice and eggs with topical preparations. The active constituents of these preparations frequently exert their effects through inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE, EC Increasing resistance to many preparations has led to the search for more effective treatments. Tea Tree oil, otherwise known as Melaleuca oil, has been added to several preparations as an alternative treatment of head lice infestations. In this study two major constituents of Tea Tree oil, 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol, were shown to inhibit acetylcholinesterase at IC50 values (inhibitor concentrations required to give 50% inhibition) of 0.04 and 10.30 mM, respectively. Four samples of Tea Tree oil tested (Tisserand, Body Treats, Main Camp and Irish Health Culture Association Pure Undiluted) showed anticholinesterase activity at IC50 values of 0.05, 0.10, 0.08 and 0.11 microL mL(-1), respectively. The results supported the hypothesis that the insecticidal activity of Tea Tree oil was attributable, in part, to the anticholinesterase activity of Tea Tree oil.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cyclohexanols / chemistry
  • Cyclohexanols / isolation & purification
  • Cyclohexanols / pharmacokinetics
  • Eucalyptol
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Lice Infestations / drug therapy
  • Monoterpenes / chemistry
  • Monoterpenes / isolation & purification
  • Monoterpenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Tea Tree Oil / chemistry
  • Tea Tree Oil / pharmacokinetics*
  • Terpenes / chemistry
  • Terpenes / isolation & purification
  • Terpenes / pharmacokinetics


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Cyclohexanols
  • Monoterpenes
  • Terpenes
  • terpinenol-4
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Acetylcholine
  • Eucalyptol