This study aimed to evaluate whether ginsenosides Rb1 (20-S-protopanaxadiol aglycon) and Rg1 (20-S-protopanaxatriol aglycon) have mitochondrial protective effects against oxygen-glucose deprivation/reoxygenation (OGD/R)-induced injury in primary mouse astrocytes and to explore the mechanisms involved. The OGD/R model was used to mimic the pathological process of cerebral ischemia-reperfusion in vitro. Astrocytes were treated with normal conditions, OGD/R, OGD/R plus Rb1, or OGD/R plus Rg1. Cell viability was measured to evaluate the cytotoxicity of Rb1 and Rg1. Intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) and catalase (CAT) were detected to evaluate oxidative stress. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number and mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) were measured to evaluate mitochondrial function. The activities of the mitochondrial respiratory chain (MRC) complexes I–V and the level of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) were measured to evaluate oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) levels. Cell viability was significantly decreased in the OGD/R group compared to the control group. Rb1 or Rg1 administration significantly increased cell viability. Moreover, OGD/R caused a significant increase in ROS formation and, subsequently, it decreased the activity of CAT and the mtDNA copy number. At the same time, treatment with OGD/R depolarized the MMP in the astrocytes. Rb1 or Rg1 administration reduced ROS production, increased CAT activity, elevated the mtDNA content, and attenuated the MMP depolarization. In addition, Rb1 or Rg1 administration increased the activities of complexes I, II, III, and V and elevated the level of ATP, compared to those in the OGD/R groups. Rb1 and Rg1 have different chemical structures, but exert similar protective effects against astrocyte damage induced by OGD/R. The mechanism may be related to improved efficiency of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and the reduction in ROS production in cultured astrocytes.
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