Donepezil is a specific and potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitor according to in vitro data. It displays primarily noncompetitive inhibitory activity. In vivo, donepezil inhibited acetylcholinesterase activity in human erythrocytes and increased extracellular acetylcholine levels in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus of the rat. Donepezil demonstrated efficacy in tests of reference memory in animals, but had less consistent activity in tests of working memory. Donepezil 5 or 10 mg/day was associated with significant improvements in cognitive function [assessed by the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog)] after 14 and 30 weeks and patient global function (Clinician's Interview-based Impression of Change incorporating caregiver input score) after 30 weeks, compared with placebo, in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. After 2 years, donepezil 5 or 10 mg/day was associated with an ADAS-cog score approximately 4 points better than would be expected in untreated patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. The most common adverse events reported in association with donepezil 5 mg/day were gastrointestinal events (nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea, gastric upset and constipation) and dizziness. No hepatotoxicity was reported after 12 weeks' treatment.