Unravelling Novel Phytochemicals and Anticholinesterase Activity in Irish Cladonia portentosa

Molecules. 2023 May 17;28(10):4145. doi: 10.3390/molecules28104145.


Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors remain the mainstay of symptomatic treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The natural world is rich in acetylcholinesterase inhibitory molecules, and research efforts to identify novel leads is ongoing. Cladonia portentosa, commonly known as reindeer lichen, is an abundant lichen species found in Irish Boglands. The methanol extract of Irish C. portentosa was identified as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitory lead using qualitative TLC-bioautography in a screening program. To identify the active components, the extract was deconvoluted using a successive extraction process with hexane, ethyl acetate and methanol to isolate the active fraction. The hexane extract demonstrated the highest inhibitory activity and was selected for further phytochemical investigations. Olivetolic acid, 4-O-methylolivetolcarboxylic acid, perlatolic acid and usnic acid were isolated and characterized using ESI-MS and two-dimensional NMR techniques. LC-MS analysis also determined the presence of the additional usnic acid derivatives, placodiolic and pseudoplacodiolic acids. Assays of the isolated components confirmed that the observed anticholinesterase activity of C. portentosa can be attributed to usnic acid (25% inhibition at 125 µM) and perlatolic acid (20% inhibition at 250 µM), which were both reported inhibitors. This is the first report of isolation of olivetolic and 4-O-methylolivetolcarboxylic acids and the identification of placodiolic and pseudoplacodiolic acids from C. portentosa.

Keywords: 4-O-methylolivetolcarboxylic acid; LC-MS; fragmentation mechanism; olivetolic acid; perlatolic acid; placodiolic acid; pseudoplacodiolic acid; usnic acid.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase*
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors* / chemistry
  • Hexanes
  • Methanol
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • perlatolic acid
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • n-hexane
  • Hexanes
  • Methanol
  • Plant Extracts
  • Phytochemicals
  • Antioxidants

Supplementary concepts

  • Cladonia portentosa