Natural Products pp 1239-1262 | Cite as

Lycopodium Alkaloids: Pharmacology

  • Elín Soffía Olafsdóttir
  • Elsa S. Halldorsdottir
  • N. M. Pich
  • S. Omarsdottir
Reference work entry


The aim of this work is to review the current knowledge on the lycopodium alkaloids with an emphasis on their pharmacology and potential medical application. Lycopodium alkaloids are produced by club mosses, a vulnerable group of slow-growing lower plants. (−)-Huperzine A (hupA) isolated from Huperzia serrata is known for its potent and reversible acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibiting activity and is used as a drug for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in China. In addition, hupA has been shown to have neuroprotective effects in preclinical studies. It is by far the most intensively studied lycopodium alkaloid and clinical trials do indicate positive effects on AD symptoms with minimum adverse effects. At present, the greatest hurdle for research and application of lycopodium alkaloids is the lack of sustainable methods to supply these compounds. Lycopodium alkaloids which resemble hupA in having favorable bioavailability, pharmacokinetics, and toxicological profiles, in addition to interesting biological activities, are likely to be included in the search for new drug leads in the future, for example, in the development of multi-target and multidrug therapies for AD and other neurodegenerative diseases.


Acetylcholinesterase Alzheimer’s disease biological activity clinical trials club mosses huperzine A Lycopodiaceae lycopodium alkaloids pharmacology 








Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor


Acetylcholine receptor


Alzheimer’s disease


Alzheimer’s disease assessment scale – cognitive section


Activities of daily living


Blood brain barrier


Twice a day




Butyrylcholinesterase inhibitor




Central nervous system


Cerebrospinal fluid


Cytochrome P450


Food and drug administration


(−)-huperzine A


(−)-huperzine B








Mild cognitive impairment


Mini Mental State Examination


Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor


Nerve growth factor


National Institutes of Health


N-methyl D-aspartate






Per os (oral)




Torpedo californica acetylcholinesterase


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elín Soffía Olafsdóttir
    • 1
  • Elsa S. Halldorsdottir
    • 1
  • N. M. Pich
    • 1
  • S. Omarsdottir
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Health SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland

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