Allosterically potentiating ligands of nicotinic receptors as a treatment strategy for Alzheimer's disease

Behav Brain Res. 2000 Aug;113(1-2):199-206. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(00)00214-x.


One of the most prominent cholinergic deficit in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the reduced number of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) in the hippocampus and cortex of AD patients, as compared to age-matched controls. This deficit results in reduced nicotinic cholinergic excitation which may not only impair postsynaptic depolarization but also presynaptic neurotransmitter release and Ca2+-dependent intracellular signaling, including transcriptional activity. Presently, the most common approach to correct the nicotinic cholinergic deficit in AD is the application of cholinesterase inhibitors. Due to the resulting increase in synaptic acetylcholine levels, both in concentration and time, additional nAChR molecules, e.g. those more distant from the ACh release sites, could be activated. As an obvious disadvantage, this approach affects cholinergic neurotransmission as a whole, including muscarinic neurotransmission. As a novel and alternative approach, a treatment strategy which exclusively targets nicotinic receptors is suggested. The strategy is based on a group of modulating ligands of nicotinic receptors, named allosterically potentiating ligands (APL), which increase the probability of channel opening induced by ACh and nicotinic agonists, and in addition decrease receptor desensitization. The action of APL on nicotinic receptors is reminiscent of that of benzodiazepines on GABA(A) receptors and of that of glycine on the NMDA-subtype of glutamate receptor. Representative nicotinic APL are the plant alkaloids physostigmine, galanthamine and codeine, and the neurotransmitter serotonin (5HT). The potentiating effect of APL on nicotinic neurotransmission has been shown by whole-cell patch-clamp studies in natural murine and human neurons, and in murine and human cell lines expressing various subtypes of neuronal nAChR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation / drug effects
  • Allosteric Site / drug effects*
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic