Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists decrease distractibility in aged monkeys performing the delayed response task

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1992;108(1-2):159-69. doi: 10.1007/BF02245302.


With advancing age, monkeys become impaired on a test of spatial working memory, the delayed response task, and show increased susceptibility to interference from irrelevant stimuli (Bartus and Dean 1979). Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists such as clonidine and guanfacine have been shown to improve the delayed response performance of aged monkeys under standard testing conditions (e.g. Arnsten et al. 1988). The current study examined whether these drugs could protect the delayed response performance of aged monkeys when irrelevant stimuli were presented during the delay intervals. Aged monkeys were tested on the variable delayed response task with short delays to minimize memory demands and optimize performance on control (no interference) sessions. During interference sessions, distractors were presented during the delays on 9 of the 30 trials ("distractor" trials). If the aged monkeys had been pretreated with saline, performance was significantly disrupted by the irrelevant stimuli compared to matched saline control sessions. This impairment was not only evident on the 9 distractor trials, but on the 21 remaining "nondistractor" trials as well. However, if the aged monkeys had been pretreated with clonidine or guanfacine, performance was not impaired on the interference sessions. This beneficial effect of the alpha-2 agonists was most apparent on the nondistractor trials. Guanfacine was able to decrease the harmful effects of distraction without any apparent sedative side effects. Co-administration of the alpha-2 antagonists idazoxan or SKF104078 with clonidine blocked the protective effects of the agonist on delayed response performance, consistent with actions at alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. These findings suggest that alpha-2 agonists improve delayed response performance, at least in part, by helping to protect memory from irrelevant stimulation. Clonidine is already used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder, and the current data suggest that guanfacine may also be useful in this regard.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Animals
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Clonidine / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Clonidine / pharmacology
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Dioxanes / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Idazoxan
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects


  • Adrenergic alpha-Agonists
  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
  • Benzazepines
  • Dioxanes
  • SK&F 104078
  • Clonidine
  • Idazoxan