l-Theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide), a component of green tea, is considered to have regulatory and neuroprotective roles in the brain. The present study was designed to determine the effect of l-theanine on excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity in both cell culture and animal experiments. The primary cultured mesencephalic neurons or co-cultures of mesencephalic neurons and striatal astrocytes were pretreated with l-theanine for 72 h, and then treated with excess dopamine for further 24 h. The cell viability of dopamine neurons and levels of glutathione were evaluated. Excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity was significantly attenuated by 72 h preincubation with l-theanine in neuron-astrocyte co-cultures but not in neuron-rich cultures. Exposure to l-theanine increased the levels of glutathione in both astrocytes and glial conditioned medium. The glial conditioned medium from l-theanine-pretreated striatal astrocytes attenuated dopamine-induced neurotoxicity and quinoprotein formation in mesencephalic neurons. In addition, replacement of l-glutamate with l-theanine in an in vitro cell-free glutathione-synthesis system produced glutathione-like thiol compounds. Furthermore, l-theanine administration (4 mg/kg, p.o.) for 14 days significantly increased glutathione levels in the striatum of mice. The results suggest that l-theanine provides neuroprotection against oxidative stress-induced neuronal damage by humoral molecules released from astrocytes, probably including glutathione.
Keywords: astrocyte; dopamine; glutathione; l-theanine; neuroprotection.