Aucubin is a small compound naturally found in traditional medicinal herbs with primarily anti-inflammatory and protective effects. In the nervous system, aucubin is reported to be neuroprotective by enhancing neuronal survival and inhibiting apoptotic cell death in cultures and disease models. Our previous data, however, suggest that aucubin facilitates neurite elongation in cultured hippocampal neurons and axonal regrowth in regenerating sciatic nerves. Here, we investigated whether aucubin facilitates the differentiation of neural precursor cells (NPCs) into specific types of neurons. In NPCs cultured primarily from the rat embryonic hippocampus, aucubin significantly elevated the number of GAD65/67 immunoreactive cells and the expression of GAD65/67 proteins was upregulated dramatically by more than three-fold at relatively low concentrations of aucubin (0.01 μM to 10 μM). The expression of both NeuN and vGluT1 of NPCs, the markers for neurons and glutamatergic cells, respectively, and the number of vGluT1 immunoreactive cells also increased with higher concentrations of aucubin (1 μM and 10 μM), but the ratio of the increases was largely lower than GAD expression and GAD immunoreactive cells. The GABAergic differentiation of pax6-expressing late NPCs into GABA-producing cells was further supported in cortical NPCs primarily cultured from transgenic mouse brains, which express recombinant GFP under the control of pax6 promoter. The results suggest that aucubin can be developed as a therapeutic candidate for neurodegenerative disorders caused by the loss of inhibitory GABAergic neurons.
- GABAergic neuron
- Glutamatergic neuron
- Neuronal differentiation
- Primary neuronal precursor cells