Reducing iron in the brain: a novel pharmacologic mechanism of huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease

Neurobiol Aging. 2014 May;35(5):1045-54. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2013.11.004. Epub 2013 Nov 13.


Huperzine A (HupA), a natural inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase derived from a plant, is a licensed anti-Alzheimer's disease (AD) drug in China and a nutraceutical in the United States. In addition to acting as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, HupA possesses neuroprotective properties. However, the relevant mechanism is unknown. Here, we showed that the neuroprotective effect of HupA was derived from a novel action on brain iron regulation. HupA treatment reduced insoluble and soluble beta amyloid levels, ameliorated amyloid plaques formation, and hyperphosphorylated tau in the cortex and hippocampus of APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic AD mice. Also, HupA decreased beta amyloid oligomers and amyloid precursor protein levels, and increased A Disintegrin And Metalloprotease Domain 10 (ADAM10) expression in these treated AD mice. However, these beneficial effects of HupA were largely abolished by feeding the animals with a high iron diet. In parallel, we found that HupA decreased iron content in the brain and demonstrated that HupA also has a role to reduce the expression of transferrin-receptor 1 as well as the transferrin-bound iron uptake in cultured neurons. The findings implied that reducing iron in the brain is a novel mechanism of HupA in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Brain iron; Double transgenic APPswe/PS1dE9 mice (APP/PS mice); Huperzine A; The neuronal amyloid precursor protein (APP); Transferrin receptor 1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ADAM Proteins / metabolism
  • ADAM10 Protein
  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Alkaloids / therapeutic use*
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases / metabolism
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plaque, Amyloid / drug therapy
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Sesquiterpenes / therapeutic use*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Alkaloids
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Tfrc protein, mouse
  • tau Proteins
  • huperzine A
  • Iron
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases
  • ADAM Proteins
  • ADAM10 Protein
  • Adam10 protein, mouse