Cerebroprotection of flavanol (-)-epicatechin after traumatic brain injury via Nrf2-dependent and -independent pathways

Tian Cheng, Wenzhu Wang, Qian Li, Xiaoning Han, Jing Xing, Cunfang Qi, Xi Lan, Jieru Wan, Alexa Potts, Fangxia Guan, Jian Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Traumatic brain injury (TBI), which leads to disability, dysfunction, and even death, is a prominent health problem worldwide with no effective treatment. A brain-permeable flavonoid named (-)-epicatechin (EC) modulates redox/oxidative stress and has been shown to be beneficial for vascular and cognitive function in humans and for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke in rodents. Here we examined whether EC is able to protect the brain against TBI-induced brain injury in mice and if so, whether it exerts neuroprotection by modulating the NF-E2-related factor (Nrf2) pathway. We used the controlled cortical impact model to mimic TBI. EC was administered orally at 3 h after TBI and then every 24 h for either 3 or 7 days. We evaluated lesion volume, brain edema, white matter injury, neurologic deficits, cognitive performance and emotion-like behaviors, neutrophil infiltration, reactive oxygen species (ROS), and a variety of injury-related protein markers. Nrf2 knockout mice were used to determine the role of the Nrf2 signaling pathway after EC treatment. In wild-type mice, EC significantly reduced lesion volume, edema, and cell death and improved neurologic function on days 3 and 28; cognitive performance and depression-like behaviors were also improved with EC administration. In addition, EC reduced white matter injury, heme oxygenase-1 expression, and ferric iron deposition after TBI. These changes were accompanied by attenuation of neutrophil infiltration and oxidative insults, reduced activity of matrix metalloproteinase 9, decreased Keap 1 expression, increased Nrf2 nuclear accumulation, and increased expression of superoxide dismutase 1 and quinone 1. However, EC did not significantly reduce lesion volume or improve neurologic deficits in Nrf2 knockout mice after TBI. Our results show that EC protects the TBI brain by activating the Nrf2 pathway, inhibiting heme oxygenase-1 protein expression, and reducing iron deposition. The latter two effects could represent an Nrf2-independent mechanism in this model of TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • (-)-Epicatechin
  • NF-E2-related factor
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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