Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten Makino (Cactaceae) is used to treat burns, edema, dyspepsia, and asthma in traditional medicine. The present study investigated the beneficial effects of the n-butanolic extract of O. ficus-indica var. saboten (BOF) on memory performance in mice and attempts to uncover the mechanisms underlying its action. Memory performance was assessed with the passive avoidance task, and western blotting and immunohistochemistry were used to measure changes in protein expression and cell survival. After the oral administration of BOF for 7 days, the latency time in the passive avoidance task was significantly increased relative to vehicle-treated controls (P<0.05). Western blotting revealed that the expression levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), phosphorylated cAMP response element binding-protein (pCREB), and phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (pERK) 1/2 were significantly increased in hippocampal tissue after 7 days of BOF administration (P<0.05). Doublecortin and 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine immunostaining also revealed that BOF significantly enhanced the survival of immature neurons, but did not affect neuronal cell proliferation in the subgranular zone of the hippocampal dentate gyrus. These results suggest that the subchronic administration of BOF enhances long-term memory, and that this effect is partially mediated by ERK-CREB-BDNF signaling and the survival of immature neurons.
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