Vinpocetine (ethyl apovincaminate), a synthetic derivative of the Vinca minor alkaloid vincamine, is widely used for the treatment of cerebrovascular-related diseases. One of the proposed mechanisms underlying its action is to protect against the cytotoxic effects of glutamate overexposure. Glutamate excitotoxicity leads to the disregulation of mitochondrial function and neuronal metabolism. As Vinpocetine has a binding affinity to the peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) involved in the mitochondrial transition pore complex, we investigated whether neuroprotection can be at least partially due to Vinpocetine’s effects on PBRs.
Neuroprotective effects of PK11195 and Ro5-4864, two drugs with selective and high affinity to PBR, were compared to Vinpocetine in glutamate excitotoxicity assays on primary cortical neuronal cultures. Vinpocetine exerted a neuroprotective action in a 1–50 μM concentration range while PK11195 and Ro5-4864 were only slightly neuroprotective, especially in high (>25 μM) concentrations. Combined pretreatment of neuronal cultures with Vinpocetine and PK11195 or Ro5-4864 showed increased neuroprotection in a dose-dependent manner, indicating that the different drugs may have different targets. To test this hypothesis, mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) of cultured neurons was measured by flow cytometry. 25 μM Vinpocetine reduced the decrease of mitochondrial inner membrane potential induced by glutamate exposure, but Ro5-4864 in itself was found to be more potent to block glutamate-evoked changes in MMP. Combination of Ro5-4864 and Vinpocetine treatment was found to be even more effective.
In summary, the present results indicate that the neuroprotective action of vinpocetine in culture can not be explained by its effect on neuronal PBRs alone and that additional drug targets are involved.