Mechanisms of action of cognitive enhancers on neuroreceptors

Biol Pharm Bull. 2004 Nov;27(11):1701-6. doi: 10.1248/bpb.27.1701.


No strategies for curing Alzheimer's disease have been developed yet as we do not know the exact cause of the disease. The only therapy that is available for patients is symptomatic treatment. Since Alzheimer's disease is associated with downregulation of the cholinergic system in the brain, its stimulation is expected to improve the patients' cognition, learning, and memory. Four anticholinesterases have been approved in the U.S.A. for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients. However, because of the inhibition of cholinesterases, these drugs have side effects and their effectiveness does not last long. Thus new approaches are needed. One approach is to stimulate directly nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors in the brain, and another is to stimulate NMDA receptors which are also known to be downregulated in Alzheimer's patients. Nefiracetam has been shown to potentiate ACh currents in the alpha4beta2 receptor of rat cortical neurons with a bell-shaped dose-response relationship and the maximum effect at 1 nM. This effect was exerted via G(s) proteins. The alpha7 receptor was almost unaffected by nefiracetam. Nefiracetam also potentiated NMDA currents with the maximum effect at 10 nM via interaction with the glycine-binding site of the receptor. Galantamine had a moderate potentiating effect on the alpha4beta2 receptor and potentiated NMDA currents with the maximum effect at 1 microM. However, galantamine did not interact with the glycine-binding site. Donepezil, a potent anticholinesterase, also potentiated NMDA currents at 1-10000 nM. In conclusion, these three drugs potentiate the activity not only of the cholinergic system but also of the NMDA system, thereby stimulating the downregulated nACh receptors and NMDA receptors to improve patients' learning, cognition, and memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Donepezil
  • Galantamine / pharmacology
  • Galantamine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Indans / pharmacology
  • Indans / therapeutic use
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Nootropic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Nootropic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use
  • Pyrrolidinones / pharmacology
  • Pyrrolidinones / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / drug effects*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology


  • Indans
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nootropic Agents
  • Piperidines
  • Pyrrolidinones
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Galantamine
  • nefiracetam
  • Donepezil