Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for centuries in East Asia. Herbs are used to maintain health and cure disease. Certain Chinese herbs are known to protect and improve the brain, memory, and nervous system. To apply ancient knowledge to modern science, some major natural therapeutic compounds in herbs were extracted and evaluated in recent decades. Emerging studies have shown that herbal compounds have neuroprotective effects or can ameliorate neurodegenerative diseases. To understand the mechanisms of herbal compounds that protect against neurodegenerative diseases, we summarize studies that discovered neuroprotection by herbal compounds and compound-related mechanisms in neurodegenerative disease models. Those compounds discussed herein show neuroprotection through different mechanisms, such as cytokine regulation, autophagy, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, glucose metabolism, and synaptic function. The interleukin (IL)-1β and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α signaling pathways are inhibited by some compounds, thus attenuating the inflammatory response and protecting neurons from cell death. As to autophagy regulation, herbal compounds show opposite regulatory effects in different neurodegenerative models. Herbal compounds that inhibit ER stress prevent neuronal death in neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, there are compounds that protect against neuronal death by affecting glucose metabolism and synaptic function. Since the progression of neurodegenerative diseases is complicated, and compound-related mechanisms for neuroprotection differ, therapeutic strategies may need to involve multiple compounds and consider the type and stage of neurodegenerative diseases.
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