Aim of the study: Ilex paraguariensis St. Hilaire (Aquifoliaceae) is a plant widely cultivated in South America that is used to prepare a tea-like beverage with a reputation to improve cognitive function, a response that has been attributed to the constituents of the leaves, especially caffeine. Our previous study indicated that the hydroalcoholic extract of Ilex paraguariensis presents an antiparkinsonian profile in reserpine- and 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine hydrochloride (MPTP)-treated rodents.
Materials and methods: In the present study, the effects of the hydroalcoholic extract of Ilex paraguariensis on the short- and long-term learning and memory of rats were assessed with the social recognition, Morris water maze, and step-down inhibitory avoidance tasks.
Results: A preliminary HPLC fingerprint of the plant extract confirmed the presence of caffeine (the major compound), rutin and kaemperol, and revealed the absence of detectable concentrations of caffeic acid, quercetin and ursolic acid. Acute pre-training intraperitoneal (i.p.) or oral administration of the extract of Ilex paraguariensis improved the short-term social memory in a specific manner as well as facilitated the step-down inhibitory avoidance short-term memory evaluated 1.5h after training. Moreover, a synergistic response was observed following the co-administration of 'non-effective' doses of caffeine and Ilex paraguariensis in the social memory. In contrast, pre-training administration of hydroalcoholic extract of Ilex paraguariensis did not alter the step-down inhibitory avoidance long-term memory evaluated 24h after training, while the highest dose tested (250 mg/kg, i.p.) disrupted the animals' performance in a cued version of the Morris water maze.
Conclusion: These results partly substantiate the traditional use of mate tea for improvement of cognition indicating that acute administration of hydroalcoholic extract of Ilex paraguariensis differentially modulates short- and long-term learning and memory in rats probably through its antagonist's action on adenosine receptors.