Protective role of methylene blue in Alzheimer's disease via mitochondria and cytochrome c oxidase

J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 2:S439-52. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-100414.


The key cytopathologies in the brains of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients include mitochondrial dysfunction and energy hypometabolism, which are likely caused by the accumulation of toxic species of amyloid-beta (Abeta) peptides. This review discusses two potential approaches to delay the onset of AD. The first approach is use of diaminophenothiazines (e.g., methylene blue; MB) to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction and to attenuate energy hypometabolism. We have shown that MB increases heme synthesis, cytochrome c oxidase (complex IV), and mitochondrial respiration, which are impaired in AD brains. Consistently, MB is one of the most effective agents to delay senescence in normal human cells. A key action of MB appears to be enhancing mitochondrial function, which is achieved at nM concentrations. We propose that the cycling of MB between the reduced leucomethylene blue (MBH2) and the oxidized (MB) forms may explain, in part, the mitochondria-protecting activities of MB. The second approach is use of naturally occurring osmolytes to prevent the formation of toxic forms of Abeta. Osmolytes (e.g., taurine, carnosine) are brain metabolites typically accumulated in tissues at relatively high concentrations following stress conditions. Osmolytes enhance thermodynamic stability of proteins by stabilizing natively-folded protein conformation, thus preventing aggregation, without perturbing other cellular processes. Experimental evidence suggests that the level of carnosine is significantly lower in AD patients. Osmolytes may inhibit the formation of Abeta species in vivo, thus preventing the formation of soluble oligomers. Osmolytes are efficient antioxidants that may also increase neural resistance to Abeta. The potential significance of combining MB and osmolytes to treat AD are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Methylene Blue / therapeutic use*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Methylene Blue