Vinpocetine is a semi-synthetic derivative of vincamine. Vincamine is an alkaloid derived from the plant Vinca minor L., a member of the periwinkle family. Vinpocetine, as well as vincamine, are used in Europe, Japan and Mexico as pharmaceutical agents for the treatment of cerebrovascular and cognitive disorders. In the United States, vinpocetine is marketed as a dietary supplement. It is sometimes called a nootropic, meaning cognition enhancer, from the Greek noos for mind.
Vinpocetine is also known as ethyl apovincaminate; ethyl apovincaminoate; eburnamenine-14-carboxylic acid ethyl ester; 3 alpha, 16 alpha-apovincaminic acid ethyl ester; ethyl apovincamin-22-oate; and cavinton, which is sometimes used generically for a branded product with that name. Another vinca alkaloid called vinconate is also being researched as a possible cognition enhancer.
Vinpocetine is a new cerebral metabolic activator which can improve cerebral circulation and enhance oxygen and glucose utilisation in the brain. Vinpocetine diminishes or reduces disturbances due to hypoxia or to deficient cerebral metabolism. Vinpocetine produces improvement in mental and neurological symptoms which are sequelae to cerebral haemorrhage, cerebral infarction (particularly multi- infarct) and cerebrosclerosis. Cerebral circulation is particularly enhanced in response to low oxygen levels in the brain and thus increased blood flow to the brain is not accompanied by reduced peripheral blood flow and side effects associated with that as hypertension. Vinpocetine improves oxygen and glucose utilisation by brain cells and increases their resistance to damage by hypoxia.
Several mechanisms have been proposed for the possible actions of vinpocetine. Vinpocetine has been reported to have calcium-channel blocking activity, as well as voltage-gated sodium channel blocking activity. It has also been reported to inhibit the acetylcholine release evoked by excitatory amino acids and to protect neurons against excitotoxicity. In addition, vinpocetine has been shown to inhibit a cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase, and it is speculated that this inhibition enhances cyclic GMP levels in the vascular smooth muscle, leading to reduced resistance of cerebral vessels and increase of cerebral flow. In some studies, vinpocetine has demonstrated antioxidant activity equivalent to that of vitamin E.