Impact of Coffee and Cacao Purine Metabolites on Neuroplasticity and Neurodegenerative Disease

Neurochem Res. 2019 Jan;44(1):214-227. doi: 10.1007/s11064-018-2492-0. Epub 2018 Feb 8.


Increasing evidence suggests that regular consumption of coffee, tea and dark chocolate (cacao) can promote brain health and may reduce the risk of age-related neurodegenerative disorders. However, the complex array of phytochemicals in coffee and cacao beans and tea leaves has hindered a clear understanding of the component(s) that affect neuronal plasticity and resilience. One class of phytochemicals present in relatively high amounts in coffee, tea and cacao are methylxanthines. Among such methylxanthines, caffeine has been the most widely studied and has clear effects on neuronal network activity, promotes sustained cognitive performance and can protect neurons against dysfunction and death in animal models of stroke, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Caffeine's mechanism of action relies on antagonism of various subclasses of adenosine receptors. Downstream xanthine metabolites, such as theobromine and theophylline, may also contribute to the beneficial effects of coffee, tea and cacao on brain health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cacao / chemistry
  • Cacao / metabolism*
  • Coffee / chemistry
  • Coffee / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Purines / metabolism*
  • Purines / pharmacology
  • Purines / therapeutic use


  • Coffee
  • Plant Extracts
  • Purines