Mechanisms of action of cognitive enhancers on neuroreceptors

Toshio Narahashi, Shigeki Moriguchi, Xilong Zhao, William Marszalec, Jay Zeus Yeh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


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 α4β2 receptor of rat cortical neurons with a bell-shaped dose-response relationship and the maximum effect at 1 nM. This effect was exerted via Gs proteins. The α7 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 α4β2 receptor and potentiated NMDA currents with the maximum effect at 1 μM. 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1701-1706
Number of pages6
JournalBiological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2004 Nov


  • Acetylcholine receptor
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Donepezil
  • Galantamine
  • NMDA receptor
  • Nefiracetam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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