Experimental and clinical data suggest that the Ginkgo biloba standardized extract EGb 761® exerts beneficial effects in conditions which are associated with impaired cognitive function. However, the neurochemical correlates of these memory enhancing effects are not yet fully clarified. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of repeated oral administration of EGb 761® and some of its characteristic constituents on extracellular levels of dopamine (DA), noradrenaline (NA), serotonin (5-HT), acetylcholine (ACh) and the metabolites 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), homovanillic acid (HVA) and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of awake rats by use of in vivo microdialysis technique.
Subacute (14 days, once daily), but not acute, oral treatment with EGb 761® (100 and 300 mg/kg) or the flavonoid fraction, which represents about 24% of the whole extract caused a significant and dose-dependent increase in extracellular DA levels in the mPFC. Repeated administration of EGb 761® also caused a modest but significant increase in the NA levels, whereas the concentrations of 5-HT and those of the metabolites DOPAC, HVA and 5-HIAA were not affected. The same treatment regimen was used in a subsequent study with the aim of investigating the effects of two Ginkgo-specific acylated flavonols, 3-O-(2’’-O-(6’’’-O-(p-hydroxy-trans-cinnamoyl)-β-D-glucosyl)-α-L-rhamnosyl)quercetin (Q-ag) and 3-O-(2’’-O-(6’’’-O-(p-hydroxy-trans-cinnamoyl)-β-D-glucosyl)-α-L-rhamnosyl)kaempferol (K-ag). Both compounds together represent about 4.5% of the whole extract. Repeated oral treatment with Q-ag (10 mg/kg) for 14 days caused a significant increase in extracellular DA levels of 159% and extracellular acetylcholine (ACh) levels of 151% compared to controls. Similarly, administration of K-ag (10 mg/kg) induced a significant rise of DA levels to 142% and ACh levels to 165% of controls, whereas treatment with isorhamnetin, an O-methylated aglycon component of EGb 761® flavonol glycosides had no effect. None of the tested flavonoids had a significant effect on extracellular DOPAC and HVA levels.
The present findings provide evidence that the subacute treatment with EGb 761® and its flavonol constituents increases DA and ACh release in the rat mPFC, and suggest that the two Ginkgo-specific acylated flavonol glycosides Q-ag and K-ag are active constituents contributing to these effects. As seen for isorhamnetin, the effect on neurotransmitter levels seems not to be a general effect of flavonols but rather to be a specific action of acylated flavonol glycosides which are present in EGb 761®. The direct involvement of these two flavonol derivatives in the increase of dopaminergic and cholinergic neurotransmission in the prefrontal cortex may be one of the underlying mechanisms behind the reported effects of EGb 761® on the improvement of cognitive function.