A cog in cognition: how the alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is geared towards improving cognitive deficits

Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Jun;122(3):302-11. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2009.03.009. Epub 2009 Apr 5.


Cognition, memory, and attention and arousal have been linked to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Thus it is not surprising that nAChRs have been strongly implicated as therapeutic targets for treating cognitive deficits in disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease (AD). In particular the alpha7 (alpha7) nAChR has been closely linked with normalization of P50 auditory evoked potential (AEP) gating deficits, and to a lesser extent improvements in pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) of the acoustic startle response. These two brain phenomena can be considered as pre-attentive, occurring while sensory information is being processed, and are important endophenotypes in schizophrenia with deficits likely contributing to the cognitive fragmentation associated with the disease. In addition alpha7 nAChRs have been implicated in attention, in particular under high attentional demand, and in more demanding working memory tasks such as long delays in delayed matching tasks. Efficacy of alpha7 nAChR agonists across a range of cognitive processes ranging from pre-attentive to attentive states and working and recognition memory provides a solid basis for their pro-cognitive effects. This review will focus on the recent work highlighting the role of alpha7 in cognition and cognitive processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cognition Disorders / genetics
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Protein Binding / genetics
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor