The cholinergic system in Alzheimer's disease

Prog Neurobiol. 1997 Aug;52(6):511-35. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(97)00028-2.


The past decade has witnessed an enormous increase in our knowledge of the variety and complexity of neuropathological and neurochemical changes in Alzheimer's disease. Although the disease is characterized by multiple deficits of neurotransmitters in the brain, this overview emphasizes the structural and neurochemical localization of the elements of the acetylcholine system (choline acetyltransferase, acetylcholinesterase, and muscarinic and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) in the non-demented brain and in Alzheimer's disease brain samples. The results demonstrate a great variation in the distribution of acetylcholinesterase, choline acetyltransferase, and the nicotinic and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in the different brain areas, nuclei and subnuclei. When stratification is present in certain brain regions (olfactory bulb, cortex, hippocampus, etc.), differences can be detected as regards the laminar distribution of the elements of the acetylcholine system. Alzheimer's disease involves a substantial loss of the elements of the cholinergic system. There is evidence that the most affected areas include the cortex, the entorhinal area, the hippocampus, the ventral striatum and the basal part of the forebrain. Other brain areas are less affected. The fact that the acetylcholine system, which plays a significant role in the memory function, is seriously impaired in Alzheimer's disease has accelerated work on the development of new drugs for treatment of the disease of the 20th century.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / enzymology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Brain / enzymology
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Cholinesterases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism


  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Cholinesterases