This paper provides the first review of the memory-enhancing and neuroprotective metabolic mechanisms of action of methylene blue in vivo. These mechanisms have important implications as a new neurobiological approach to improve normal memory and to treat memory impairment and neurodegeneration associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. Methylene blue's action is unique because its neurobiological effects are not determined by regular drug-receptor interactions or drug-response paradigms. Methylene blue shows a hormetic dose-response, with opposite effects at low and high doses. At low doses, methylene blue is an electron cycler in the mitochondrial electron transport chain, with unparalleled antioxidant and cell respiration-enhancing properties that affect the function of the nervous system in a versatile manner. A major role of the respiratory enzyme cytochrome oxidase on the memory-enhancing effects of methylene blue is supported by available data. The memory-enhancing effects have been associated with improvement of memory consolidation in a network-specific and use-dependent fashion. In addition, low doses of methylene blue have also been used for neuroprotection against mitochondrial dysfunction in humans and experimental models of disease. The unique auto-oxidizing property of methylene blue and its pleiotropic effects on a number of tissue oxidases explain its potent neuroprotective effects at low doses. The evidence reviewed supports a mechanistic role of low-dose methylene blue as a promising and safe intervention for improving memory and for the treatment of acute and chronic conditions characterized by increased oxidative stress, neurodegeneration and memory impairment.
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