Medicinal shrub protects against cognitive decline in diabetic rats

The mistletoe fig reduces toxic oxidative stress in diabetic rat brains, while also keeping the cortex wrinkly and improving cognition.

Ficus deltoidea or Mas Cotek is an herb native to Malaysian rainforests.

Researchers at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) have shown that leaves from the mistletoe fig plant (Ficus deltoidea) can reduce learning and memory deficits in a rat model of diabetes.

Recent studies have shown that diabetes is a risk factor for cognitive deficits and even dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

“Malaysia has the highest prevalence of diabetes among all Asian countries, making Malaysians particularly vulnerable to the development of learning and memory deficits,” says Nurdiana Samsulrizal, UiTM researcher and first author of the study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.

Cognitive deficits in diabetes could result from toxic oxidative stress in the brain: damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA caused by free-floating ions and oxygen-containing molecules.

Serendipitously, a potential therapy might come from a Malaysian herbal remedy. The mistletoe fig is a common South-East Asian plant used in Malaysian herbal medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It is known to have strong antioxidant properties that protect against oxidative stress. Building on their recent work showing that this plant can reduce blood glucose and raise insulin levels, the research group examined how leaves from the mistletoe fig affect memory, brain morphology, and markers of oxidative stress in a rat model of diabetes.

The team trained rats on a standard spatial memory task in which they learned the location of an underwater platform. The diabetic rats performed poorly compared to control rats, indicating impaired spatial learning and memory. The team found that the normally complexly folded cortex had become smooth in the diabetic rats’ brains. Further analysis of their brains showed very high levels of oxidative stress markers and very low levels of antioxidants.

In contrast, these signs and symptoms were reduced in diabetic rats that were treated with mistletoe fig leaves. These rats performed much better on the memory task than untreated rats, had a convoluted cortex, lower levels of oxidative stress markers, and higher levels of antioxidants in their brains.

“We hope our results provide insight and an avenue of further research for developing neuroprotective therapies based on traditional herbal medicine,” says UPM veterinary physiologist Goh Yong Meng.

For further information:

Dr Nurdiana Samsulrizal

Faculty of Applied Sciences

Universiti Teknologi MARA

E-mail: [email protected]


Associate Professor Goh Yong Meng

Veterinary Preclinical Sciences

Universiti Putra Malaysia

E-mail: [email protected]

Published: 17 Jan 2019

Contact details:

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Institute of Research, Development and Commersialisation (IRDC) Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam, 50450 Shah Alam Selangor Malaysia

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