The natural product totarol, a phenolic diterpenoid and a major constituent isolated from the sap of Podocarpus totara, has been reported to have a potent antimicrobial activity. In this study, we determined whether totarol possessed an additional neuroprotective activity in vitro and in vivo. We found that totarol prevented glutamate- and oxygen and glucose deprivation-induced neuronal death in primary rat cerebellar granule neuronal cells and cerebral cortical neurons. Totarol increased Akt and GSK-3β phosphorylation, Nrf2 and heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) protein expressions and suppressed oxidative stress by increasing GSH and SOD activities. The PI3K/Akt inhibitor LY294002 prevented totarol neuroprotective effect by suppressing the totarol-induced changes in HO-1 expression and the activities of GSH and SOD. The HO-1 inhibitor ZnPPIX also prevented totarol-increased GSH and SOD activities. In a model of acute cerebral ischemic injury in Sprague–Dawley rats, produced by occlusion of the middle cerebral artery for 2 h followed by 22 h or 46 h of reperfusion, totarol significantly reduced infarct volume and improved the neurological deficit. In this model, totarol increased HO-1 expression and the activities of GSH and SOD. These observations suggest that totarol may be a novel activator of the Akt/HO-1 pathway protecting against ischemic stroke through reduction of oxidative stress.Graphical abstract
It is unknown whether the natural product totarol has neuroprotective effects in vitro and in vivo. This study underscores that totarol prevents neuronal injury in vitro, not only by activating PI3K/Akt pathway, but also via induction of Nrf2, HO-1, GSH and SOD expressions. Totarol also ameliorated acute cerebral ischemic injury in a rat ischemic stroke model. The findings highlight that totarol may be exploited for protecting against ischemic stroke through Akt/HO-1 pathway.