BACKGROUND: Extracts of Sasa senanensis Rehder are used in traditional Japanese medicine; however, little is known about the underlying mechanisms of their potential health benefits. METHODS: S. senanensis leaves were extracted with subcritical water. An active small-molecule was isolated using reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and identified as 3,4-dihydroxybenzaldehyde (protocatechuic aldehyde or PA). The effects of PA on the activity of histone demethylase, the Drosophila melanogaster lifespan and gene expression in Drosophila S2 cells were investigated. RESULTS: PA inhibited the activity of Jumonji domain-containing protein 2A (JMJD2A) histone demethylase in a dose-dependent manner with a half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) of 11.6 ?M. However, there was no effect on lysine-specific demethylase 1 (LSD1), histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC1) or HDAC8. PA significantly extended the lifespan of female, but not male, Drosophila. In Drosophila S2 cells, the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E binding protein (4E-BP) was up-regulated by PA exposure. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide insight into the possible relationship between the pharmacological modulation of histone demethylation and lifespan extension by PA; they might also be important in the development of alternative therapies for age-related disorders.