Neurotrophic factors are vital not only to support neuronal development but also to protect mature neurons from atrophy in neurodegenerative diseases. As an effort to explore natural sources that possess neurotrophic activity, we screened common marine algae for their neuritogenic activity in the developing rat hippocampal neurons in culture. Of the 22 seaweed species examined, ethanol extracts of Gelidium amansii (GAE) exhibited potent neuritogenic activity, followed by Undaria pinnatifida and Sargassum fulvellum extracts. The effects of GAE were dose dependent with an optimum concentration of 15 µg/mL. The GAE significantly promoted the initial neuronal differentiation from the stage I into the stage II and increased the indices of axonal and dendritic development such as the length, the numbers of primary processes, and branching frequencies by a minimum of twofold compared with the vehicle control. These results show that marine algae are promising candidates for neurotrophic potentials.
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