• Akt;
  • antioxidants;
  • cyclic AMP-response element binding protein;
  • flavonoids;
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase;
  • neurodegeneration


Emerging evidence suggests that the cellular actions of flavonoids relate not simply to their antioxidant potential but also to the modulation of protein kinase signalling pathways. We investigated in primary cortical neurons, the ability of the flavan-3-ol, (-)epicatechin, and its human metabolites at physiologically relevant concentrations, to stimulate phosphorylation of the transcription factor cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), a regulator of neuronal viability and synaptic plasticity. (-)Epicatechin at 100–300 nmol/L stimulated a rapid, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)- and PI3K-dependent, increase in CREB phosphorylation. At micromolar concentrations, stimulation was no longer apparent and at the highest concentration tested (30 μmol/L) (-)epicatechin was inhibitory. (-)Epicatechin also stimulated ERK and Akt phosphorylation with similar bell-shaped concentration-response characteristics. The human metabolite 3′-O-methyl-(-)epicatechin was as effective as (-)epicatechin at stimulating ERK phosphorylation, but (-)epicatechin glucuronide was inactive. (-)Epicatechin and 3′-O-methyl-(-)epicatechin treatments (100 nmol/L) increased CRE-luciferase activity in cortical neurons in a partially ERK-dependent manner, suggesting the potential to increase CREB-mediated gene expression. mRNA levels of the glutamate receptor subunit GluR2 increased by 60%, measured 18 h after a 15 min exposure to (-)epicatechin and this translated into an increase in GluR2 protein. Thus, (-)epicatechin has the potential to increase CREB-regulated gene expression and increase GluR2 levels and thus modulate neurotransmission, plasticity and synaptogenesis.