Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. May-Aug 1992;17(2):139-70. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(92)90012-b.

Abstract

Caffeine is the most widely consumed central-nervous-system stimulant. Three main mechanisms of action of caffeine on the central nervous system have been described. Mobilization of intracellular calcium and inhibition of specific phosphodiesterases only occur at high non-physiological concentrations of caffeine. The only likely mechanism of action of the methylxanthine is the antagonism at the level of adenosine receptors. Caffeine increases energy metabolism throughout the brain but decreases at the same time cerebral blood flow, inducing a relative brain hypoperfusion. Caffeine activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine. Many of the alerting effects of caffeine may be related to the action of the methylxanthine on serotonin neurons. The methylxanthine induces dose-response increases in locomotor activity in animals. Its psychostimulant action on man is, however, often subtle and not very easy to detect. The effects of caffeine on learning, memory, performance and coordination are rather related to the methylxanthine action on arousal, vigilance and fatigue. Caffeine exerts obvious effects on anxiety and sleep which vary according to individual sensitivity to the methylxanthine. However, children in general do not appear more sensitive to methylxanthine effects than adults. The central nervous system does not seem to develop a great tolerance to the effects of caffeine although dependence and withdrawal symptoms are reported.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety
  • Caffeine / adverse effects
  • Caffeine / metabolism
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Receptors, Purinergic / metabolism
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Theophylline / pharmacology
  • Xanthines / adverse effects
  • Xanthines / metabolism
  • Xanthines / pharmacology

Substances

  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Purinergic
  • Xanthines
  • methylxanthine
  • Caffeine
  • Theophylline
  • Cyclic AMP