Roflumilast, a cAMP-Specific Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitor, Reduces Oxidative Stress and Improves Synapse Functions in Human Cortical Neurons Exposed to the Excitotoxin Quinolinic Acid

Abid Bhat, Vanessa Tan, Benjamin Heng, David B. Lovejoy, Meena Kishore Sakharkar, Musthafa Mohamed Essa, Saravana Babu Chidambaram*, Gilles J. Guillemin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The overexpression of phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) enzymes is reported in several neurodegenerative diseases. PDE4 depletes cyclic 3′-5′ adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and, in turn, cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the key players in cognitive function. The present study was undertaken to investigate the mechanism behind the protective effects of roflumilast (ROF), a cAMP-specific PDE4 inhibitor, against quinolinic acid (QUIN)-induced neurotoxicity using human primary cortical neurons. Cytotoxicity was analyzed using an MTS assay. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) and mitochondrial membrane potential were measured by DCF-DA and JC-10 staining, respectively. Caspase 3/7 activity was measured using an ApoTox-Glo Triplex assay kit. cAMP was measured using an ELISA kit. The protein expression of CREB, BDNF, SAP-97, synaptophysin, synapsin-I, and PSD-95 was analyzed by the Western blotting technique. QUIN exposure down-regulated CREB, BDNF, and synaptic protein expression in neurons. Pretreatment with ROF increased the intracellular cAMP, mitochondrial membrane potential, and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) content and decreased the ROS and caspase 3/7 levels in QUIN-exposed neurons. ROF up-regulated the expression of synapse proteins SAP-97, synaptophysin, synapsin-I, PSD-95, and CREB and BDNF, which indicates its potential role in memory. This study suggests for the first time that QUIN causes pre- and postsynaptic protein damage. We further demonstrate the restorative effects of ROF on the mitochondrial membrane potential and antiapoptotic properties in human neurons. These data encourage further investigations to reposition ROF in neurodegenerative diseases and their associated cognitive deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4405-4415
Number of pages11
JournalACS Chemical Neuroscience
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 16 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • cAMP
  • mitochondrial membrane potential
  • Phosphodiesterase
  • quinolinic acid
  • roflumilast
  • synaptic proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology

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