Flavonoids are a class of plant-derived dietary polyphenols that have attracted attention for their pro-cognitive and anti-inflammatory effects. The diversity of flavonoids and their extensive in vivo metabolism suggest that a variety of cellular targets in the brain are likely to be impacted by flavonoid consumption. Initially characterized as antioxidants, flavonoids are now believed to act directly on neurons and glia via the interaction with major signal transduction cascades, as well as indirectly via interaction with the blood-brain barrier and cerebral vasculature. This review discusses potential mechanisms of flavonoid action in the brain, with a focus on two critical transcription factors: cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB). To advance beyond current understanding of cellular targets, critical bioavailability studies need to be performed to verify the identity and concentration of flavonoid metabolites reaching the brain after ingestion and to validate that these metabolites are produced not just in rodent models but also in humans. Recent advances in human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) differentiation protocols to generate human neuronal and glial cell types could also provide a unique tool for clinically relevant in vitro investigation of the mechanisms of action of bioavailable flavonoid metabolites in humans.
Keywords: CREB; Cognition; Flavonoid; NF−κB; Natural products; Neuroinflammation.
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