Therapeutic advantage of pro-electrophilic drugs to activate the Nrf2/ARE pathway in Alzheimer's disease models

Cell Death Dis. 2016 Dec 1;7(12):e2499. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2016.389.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by synaptic and neuronal loss, which occurs at least partially through oxidative stress induced by oligomeric amyloid-β (Aβ)-peptide. Carnosic acid (CA), a chemical found in rosemary and sage, is a pro-electrophilic compound that is converted to its active form by oxidative stress. The active form stimulates the Keap1/Nrf2 transcriptional pathway and thus production of phase 2 antioxidant enzymes. We used both in vitro and in vivo models. For in vitro studies, we evaluated protective effects of CA on primary neurons exposed to oligomeric Aβ. For in vivo studies, we used two transgenic mouse models of AD, human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP)-J20 mice and triple transgenic (3xTg AD) mice. We treated these mice trans-nasally with CA twice weekly for 3 months. Subsequently, we performed neurobehavioral tests and quantitative immunohistochemistry to assess effects on AD-related phenotypes, including learning and memory, and synaptic damage. In vitro, CA reduced dendritic spine loss in rat neurons exposed to oligomeric Aβ. In vivo, CA treatment of hAPP-J20 mice improved learning and memory in the Morris water maze test. Histologically, CA increased dendritic and synaptic markers, and decreased astrogliosis, Aβ plaque number, and phospho-tau staining in the hippocampus. We conclude that CA exhibits therapeutic benefits in rodent AD models and since the FDA has placed CA on the 'generally regarded as safe' (GRAS) list, thus obviating the need for safety studies, human clinical trials will be greatly expedited.

MeSH terms

  • Abietanes / pharmacology
  • Abietanes / therapeutic use*
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antioxidant Response Elements / genetics*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Gliosis / metabolism
  • Gliosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Spatial Learning / drug effects
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptophysin / metabolism


  • Abietanes
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Synaptophysin
  • salvin