Cholinesterases: roles in the brain during health and disease

Curr Alzheimer Res. 2005 Jul;2(3):307-18. doi: 10.2174/1567205054367838.


The cholinergic hypothesis of decline in dementia, whereby deficits in learning, memory and behavior are caused, at least in part, by decreased levels of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain, first emerged more than 20 years ago. The role for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and its inhibition in this scheme has long been accepted, but findings from preclinical experiments and clinical trials have placed butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE) alongside AChE as an important contributor to the occurrence, symptoms, progression and responses to treatment in dementia. A number of new lines of evidence suggest that both cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEs) may have broader functions in the CNS than previously thought, which relate to both 'classical' esterase activities of the enzymes as well as non-classical actions unrelated to their enzymatic function. Data suggest involvement of the ChEs in modulating glial activation, cerebral blood flow, the amyloid cascade, and tau phosphorylation. It has therefore been speculated that some actions of the ChEs could affect the underlying disease processes in Alzheimer's disease (AD), and that pharmacological manipulation with ChE inhibitors may affect long-term disease progression. Focusing on new findings relating to BuChE, we review recent evidence that has extended knowledge into the roles of ChEs in health, disease and aging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Butyrylcholinesterase / metabolism*
  • Dementia / physiopathology*
  • Humans


  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Butyrylcholinesterase