Latrepirdine (Dimebon TM) was originally marketed as a non-selective antihistamine in Russia. It was repurposed as an effective treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Huntington's disease (HD) following preliminary reports showing its neuroprotective functions and ability to enhance cognition in AD and HD models. However, latrepirdine failed to show efficacy in phase III trials in AD and HD patients following encouraging phase II trials. The failure of latrepirdine in the clinical trials has highlighted the importance of understanding the precise mechanism underlying its cognitive benefits in neurodegenerative diseases before clinical evaluation. Latrepirdine has shown to affect a number of cellular functions including multireceptor activity, mitochondrial function, calcium influx and intracellular catabolic pathways; however, it is unclear how these properties contribute to its clinical benefits. Here, we review the studies investigating latrepirdine in cellular and animal models to provide a complete evaluation of its mechanisms of action in the central nervous system. In addition, we review recent studies that demonstrate neuroprotective functions for latrepirdine-related class of molecules including the β-carbolines and aminopropyl carbazoles in AD, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis models. Assessment of their neuroprotective effects and underlying biological functions presents obvious value for developing structural analogues of latrepirdine for dementia treatment.©2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited.