Tacrine restores cholinergic nicotinic receptors and glucose metabolism in Alzheimer patients as visualized by positron emission tomography

Neurobiol Aging. 1992 Nov-Dec;13(6):747-58. doi: 10.1016/0197-4580(92)90099-j.


Three patients with Alzheimer's disease, a 68-year-old woman with mild dementia and 2 men (aged 64 and 72 years) with moderate dementia were treated orally with the cholinesterase inhibitor tacrine (tetrahydroaminoacridine), 80 mg daily, for several months. The patients were investigated using positron emission tomography (PET) prior to, and after 3 weeks and 3 months of treatment. The PET studies involved a multi-tracer system consisting of [18F]-fluoro-deoxy-glucose (18F-FDG) (tracer for glucose metabolism); 11C-butanol (cerebral blood flow) and (S)(-)- and (R)(+)-[N-11C-methyl]-nicotine (nicotinic receptors; cholinergic neural activity). Tacrine treatment increased the uptake of 11C-nicotine to the brain. Significant reduced difference in uptake between the two enantiomers (S)(-)- and (R)(+)11C-nicotine was observed in the frontal and temporal cortices after tacrine treatment in all three patients. The kinetic analysis indicated increased binding of (S)(-)11C-nicotine in brain compatible with a restoration of nicotinic cholinergic receptors. The most pronounced effect was observed after 3 weeks and 3 months treatment in the patient with mild dementia. An increase in cerebral glucose utilization was found in the 68-year-old patient with mild dementia but also slightly in the 64-year-old man with moderate dementia when treated with tacrine for 3 months. Tacrine administration did not affect cerebral blood flow. The PET data obtained after 3 weeks of tacrine treatment was paralleled by improvement in neuropsychological performance. This study shows in vivo by PET neurochemical effects induced in brain by treatment with tacrine to Alzheimer patients. Intervention with tacrine in the early course of the disease might be necessary for clinical improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Deoxyglucose / analogs & derivatives
  • Deoxyglucose / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Tacrine / pharmacology*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Tacrine
  • Deoxyglucose
  • Glucose