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Research clarifies how Alzheimer's medicines may reduce interference with learning and memory

WASHINGTON -- New evidence clarifies how the only government-approved treatments for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's Disease may work to improve symptoms. When scientists chemically blocked receptors for an important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, even healthy young people found it significantly harder to learn and remember especially in the face of interference. This finding may shed light on how cholinesterase inhibitors, FDA-approved drugs that slow the breakdown of acetylcholine in Alzheimer's patients, help alleviate dementia symptoms.

The study appears in the February issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The study demonstrated that acetylcholine helps keep old information from interfering with our ability to learn and remember new information. The findings may help to explain why conditions associated with lower levels of acetylcholine in the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, dementia due to multiple strokes, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia cause problems with memory function, as well as the hallucinations and delusions that can occur in some of these conditions.

Conversely, it offers insight into the way that higher acetylcholine levels modestly improve attention, memory, activities of daily living, and behavioral symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors boost acetylcholine by reducing the enzyme that breaks it down. Understanding their effects on major symptoms during disease progression may help scientists develop more targeted and effective drugs, as well as to avoid medications that may be detrimental to memory function.

A total of 28 young healthy adults participated in the study. At Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers injected 12 of the study participants with scopolamine, an "anticholinergic" drug used for decades to treat motion sickness and intestinal spasms, and as a sedative and pre-anesthetic before surg
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Contact: Pam Willenz
public.affairs@apa.org
202-336-5700
American Psychological Association
15-Feb-2004


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