It has been shown that ascorbate (AsA) and its stable derivative, ascorbic acid 2-O-alpha-glucoside (AA-2G), do not elicit neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells. However, these ascorbates are synergistically enhanced by both dibutyryl cyclic AMP (Bt(2)cAMP)- and nerve growth factor (NGF)-induced neurite outgrowth in this model. In the present study, the effects of a series of novel lipophilic ascorbate derivatives, 6-acylated ascorbic acid 2-O-alpha-glucosides (6-Acyl-AA-2G), on neurite outgrowth induced by Bt(2)cAMP and NGF were examined in PC12 cells. We found that all the tested acylated ascorbate derivatives enhanced neurite formation induced by both agents in a dose-dependent manner. Of the 6-Acyl-AA-2G derivatives, 6-octanoyl ascorbic acid 2-O-alpha-glucoside (6-Octa-AA-2G) enhanced the Bt(2)cAMP-induced phosphorylated MAPK p44 and p42 expression. A alpha-glucosidase inhibitor, castanospermine, completely abrogated the promotion of neurite outgrowth and MAPK expression by 6-Octa-AA-2G. Addition of 6-Octa-AA-2G (0.5 mM) to PC12 cells caused a rapid and significant increase in intracellular AsA content, which reached a maximum and was maintained from 12 to 24 h after the culture. These findings suggest that 6-Acyl-AA-2G is rapidly hydrolyzed to AsA within the cell and enhances neurite differentiation through the interaction with the inducer-activated MAPK pathway.