[+]-Huperzine A treatment protects against N-methyl-D-aspartate-induced seizure/status epilepticus in rats

Chem Biol Interact. 2008 Sep 25;175(1-3):387-95. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2008.05.023. Epub 2008 May 23.


The toxicity of organophosphorous (OP) nerve agents is attributed to their irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which leads to excessive accumulation of acetylcholine (ACh) and is followed by the release of excitatory amino acids (EAA). EAAs sustain seizure activity and induce neuropathology due to over-stimulation of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Huperzine A (Hup A), a blood-brain barrier permeable selective reversible inhibitor of AChE, has been shown to reduce EAA-induced cell death by interfering with glutamate receptor-gated ion channels in primary neuronal cultures. Although [-]-Hup A, the natural isomer, inhibits AChE approximately 38-fold more potently than [+]-Hup A, both [-]- and [+]-Hup A block the NMDA channel similarly. Here, we evaluated the protective efficacy of [+]-Hup A for NMDA-induced seizure in a rat model. Rats implanted with radiotelemetry probes to record electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiography (ECG), body temperature, and physical activity were administered various doses of [+]-Hup A (intramuscularly) and treated with 20 microg/kg NMDA (intracerebroventricular) 20-30 min later. For post-exposure, rats were treated with [+]-Hup A (3 mg/kg, intramuscularly) 1 min after NMDA (20 microg/kg). Our data showed that pre- and post-exposure, [+]-Hup A (3 mg/kg) protects animals against NMDA-induced seizures. Also, NMDA-administered animals showed increased survival following [+]-Hup A treatment. [+]-Hup A has no visible effect on EEG, heart-rate, body temperature, or physical activity, indicating a reduced risk of side effects, toxicity, or associated pathology. Our results suggest that [+]-Hup A protects against seizure and status epilepticus (SE) by blocking NMDA-induced excitotoxicity in vivo. We propose that [+]-Hup A, or a unique combination of [+]- and [-]-Hup A, may prove to be effective for pre- and post-exposure treatment of lethal doses of OP-induced neurotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / blood
  • Alkaloids
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroencephalography
  • Heart Rate
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • N-Methylaspartate / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Seizures / physiopathology
  • Seizures / prevention & control*
  • Sesquiterpenes / therapeutic use*
  • Status Epilepticus / chemically induced
  • Status Epilepticus / physiopathology
  • Status Epilepticus / prevention & control*


  • Alkaloids
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • huperzine A
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Acetylcholinesterase