Neurobiological effects of the green tea constituent theanine and its potential role in the treatment of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders

Nutr Neurosci. 2014 Jul;17(4):145-55. doi: 10.1179/1476830513Y.0000000079. Epub 2013 Nov 26.


Theanine (n-ethylglutamic acid), a non-proteinaceous amino acid component of green and black teas, has received growing attention in recent years due to its reported effects on the central nervous system. It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier where it exerts a variety of neurophysiological and pharmacological effects. Its most well-documented effect has been its apparent anxiolytic and calming effect due to its up-regulation of inhibitory neurotransmitters and possible modulation of serotonin and dopamine in selected areas. It has also recently been shown to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. An increasing number of studies demonstrate a neuroprotective effects following cerebral infarct and injury, although the exact molecular mechanisms remain to be fully elucidated. Theanine also elicits improvements in cognitive function including learning and memory, in human and animal studies, possibly via a decrease in NMDA-dependent CA1 long-term potentiation (LTP) and increase in NMDA-independent CA1-LTP. Furthermore, theanine administration elicits selective changes in alpha brain wave activity with concomitant increases in selective attention during the execution of mental tasks. Emerging studies also demonstrate a promising role for theanine in augmentation therapy for schizophrenia, while animal models of depression report positive improvements following theanine administration. A handful of studies are beginning to examine a putative role in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and theoretical extrapolations to a therapeutic role for theanine in other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder are discussed.

Keywords: Alpha-wave; Alzheimers; Anti-Psychotic; Anxiety; Central nervous system; Depression; Neuroprotection; Selective attention; Theanine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Glutamates / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Tea / chemistry*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glutamates
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Tea
  • Serotonin
  • theanine
  • Dopamine