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BDNF’s neuroprotective capacity suggests that it could be useful in preventing or treating neurodegenerative diseases. Circumventing problems with BDNF’s delivery, half-life, and other limitations has proven challenging. A 2010 study found that 7,8-dihydroxyflavone, a BDNF mimetic, exerted neuroprotective qualities similar to those of BDNF.

7,8-dihydroxyflavone is a type of flavonoid compound present in a variety of plants. Flavonoids exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, among others. Some evidence indicates that 7,8-dihydroxyflavone might be useful in reversing the damage associated with lead poisoning in children.

The authors of the study screened 2,000 bioactive compounds to gauge their ability to protect rodent and human neurons from apoptosis and identified five compounds, including 7,8-dihydroxyflavone, that showed potential in protecting the cells. Then they treated the cells with BDNF and the various compounds and deprived the cells of oxygen and glucose.

They found that none of the compounds was as effective as 7,8-dihydroxyflavone in protecting the cells from apoptosis. In fact, 7,8-dihydroxyflavone was even more protective than BDNF. They also found that 7,8-dihydroxyflavone exerted its protective qualities by activating a receptor called TrkB, to which BDNF binds. They replicated their findings in an in vivo study of mice, indicating that 7,8-dihydroxyflavone enhances neuronal survival.

These findings demonstrate that flavonoid compounds that mimic the effects of BDNF show potential as therapeutics against neurodegenerative diseases.

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