Neuroprotective effects of theanine and its preventive effects on cognitive dysfunction

Pharmacol Res. 2011 Aug;64(2):162-8. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2011.03.010. Epub 2011 Apr 6.


Theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide) characteristically present in tea leaves (Camellia sinensis). It has a similar chemical structure to glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter related to memory. Theanine passes through the blood-brain barrier and has been shown to have a cerebroprotective effect and a preventive effect on neuronal cell death after transient cerebral ischemia. The neuroprotective effect is partly due to the antagonistic action of theanine on glutamate receptor subtype AMPA and kainate receptors, but the affinity is very low. Theanine also acted on glutamine (Gln) transporter strongly and inhibited the incorporation of extracellular Gln into neurons, which in turn suppressed the conversion of Gln to glutamate by glutaminase, a reaction required for condensation into synaptic vesicles to form a neurotransmitter pool responsible for subsequent exocytotic release upon stimuli. In an investigation of elderly persons with normal or slight cognitive dysfunction, volunteers who ingested powdered green tea containing a high theanine concentration (equivalent to 47.5mgday(-1) of theanine) showed significantly lower decline in cognitive function compared with that of the placebo group. This result suggested that theanine might have improved a slight cognitive dysfunction in elderly persons.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Glutamates / pharmacology*
  • Glutamates / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Tea*


  • Glutamates
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Tea
  • theanine