Health benefits of methylxanthines in neurodegenerative diseases

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jun;61(6). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201600670. Epub 2017 Feb 22.


Methylxanthines (MTXs) are consumed by almost everybody in almost every area of the world. Caffeine, theophylline and theobromine are the most well-known members of this family of compounds; they are present, inter alia, in coffee, tea, cacao, yerba mate and cola drinks. MTXs are readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and are able to penetrate into the central nervous system, where they exert significant psychostimulant actions, which are more evident in acute intake. Coffee has been paradigmatic, as its use was forbidden in many diseases, however, this negative view has radically changed; evidence shows that MTXs display health benefits in diseases involving cell death in the nervous system. This paper reviews data that appraise the preventive and even therapeutic potential of MTXs in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Future perspectives include the use of MTXs to advance the understanding the pathophysiology of, inter alia, Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), and the use of the methylxanthine chemical moiety as a basis for the development of new and more efficacious drugs.

Keywords: Adenosine; Adenosine receptors; Alzheimer's disease; Antagonists; Coffee; G-protein-coupled receptors; Parkinson's disease; Tea; Yerba mate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cacao / chemistry
  • Caffeine / pharmacology
  • Coffee / chemistry
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Ilex paraguariensis / chemistry
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Theobromine / pharmacology
  • Theophylline / pharmacology
  • Xanthines / pharmacology*


  • Coffee
  • Plant Extracts
  • Xanthines
  • methylxanthine
  • Caffeine
  • Theophylline
  • Theobromine