According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Alzheimer's disease (AD) is regarded as senile dementia, and the etiopathogenesis lies in kidney deficiency during aging. Dipsacus asper Wall (DAW), a well-known traditional Chinese medicine for enhancing kidney activity, may possess the therapeutic effects against AD. Our objectives were to investigate the protective effects of DAW against the amyloid-β peptide (Aβ)-induced cytotoxicity and explore its major active components. Injury of PC 12 cells mediated by Aβ25–35 was adopted to assess the cytoprotective effects of DAW aqueous extract and various fractions. Salvianolic acid B, a polyphenol compound isolated from Salvia miltiorrhiza, was employed as a positive control agent due to its markedly protective effect against neurotoxicity of amyloid β. Five chemical fractions (i.e. alkaloids, essential oil, saponins, iridoid glucoside and polysaccharides) were prepared for activity test and analyzed by HPLC for active components identification. In addition, Akebia saponin D (the most important compound in DAW saponins) and hederagenin (the mother nucleus of akebia saponin D) were prepared for testing of their activity. DAW water extract, saponins fraction and akebia saponin D had the neuroprotective capacity to antagonize Aβ25–35-induced cytotoxicity in PC 12 cells. In contrast, other fractions and hederagenin had no cytoprotective action. This research suggests that DAW may represent a potential treatment strategy for AD and akebia saponin D is one of its active components.