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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Neuroprotective effects of compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in a Drosophila model of Parkinson's disease

Katharina Faust12, Stephan Gehrke12, Yufeng Yang12, Lichuan Yang3, M Flint Beal3 and Bingwei Lu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

2 GRECC/VA Palo Alto Health Care System, 3801 Miranda Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA

3 Department of Neurology, Cornell University Medical College, 525 East 68th street, New York, NY 10021, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:109  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-109

Published: 1 September 2009



Parkinson's disease (PD) is the most common movement disorder. Extrapyramidal motor symptoms stem from the degeneration of the dopaminergic pathways in patient brain. Current treatments for PD are symptomatic, alleviating disease symptoms without reversing or retarding disease progression. Although the cause of PD remains unknown, several pathogenic factors have been identified, which cause dopaminergic neuron (DN) death in the substantia nigra (SN). These include oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation and excitotoxicity. Manipulation of these factors may allow the development of disease-modifying treatment strategies to slow neuronal death. Inhibition of DJ-1A, the Drosophila homologue of the familial PD gene DJ-1, leads to oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and DN loss, making fly DJ-1A model an excellent in vivo system to test for compounds with therapeutic potential.


In the present study, a Drosophila DJ-1A model of PD was used to test potential neuroprotective drugs. The drugs applied are the Chinese herb celastrol, the antibiotic minocycline, the bioenergetic amine coenzyme Q10 (coQ10), and the glutamate antagonist 2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulphamoylbenzo[f]-quinoxaline (NBQX). All of these drugs target pathogenic processes implicated in PD, thus constitute mechanism-based treatment strategies. We show that celastrol and minocycline, both having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, confer potent dopaminergic neuroprotection in Drosophila DJ-1A model, while coQ10 shows no protective effect. NBQX exerts differential effects on cell survival and brain dopamine content: it protects against DN loss but fails to restore brain dopamine level.


The present study further validates Drosophila as a valuable model for preclinical testing of drugs with therapeutic potential for neurodegenerative diseases. The lower cost and amenability to high throughput testing make Drosophila PD models effective in vivo tools for screening novel therapeutic compounds. If our findings can be further validated in mammalian PD models, they would implicate drugs combining antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as strong therapeutic candidates for mechanism-based PD treatment.