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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptNIH Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Pharmacol Ther. Author manuscript; available in PMC Dec 24, 2007.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2151919
NIHMSID: NIHMS20604

Adrenergic Pharmacology and Cognition: Focus on the Prefrontal Cortex

Abstract

Norepinephrine (NE) has widespread projections throughout brain, and thus is ideally positioned to orchestrate neural functions based on arousal state. For example, NE can increase “signal/noise” ratio in the processing of sensory stimuli, and can enhance long-term memory consolidation in the amygdala and hippocampus through actions at α-1 and β adrenoceptors. Over the last 20 years, NE has also been shown to play a powerful role in regulating the working memory and attention functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Moderate levels of NE released under control conditions strengthen prefrontal cortical functions via actions at post-synaptic α-2A adrenoceptors with high affinity for NE, while high levels of NE release during stress impair PFC cortical functions via α-1 and possibly β-1 receptors with lower affinity for NE. Thus, levels of NE determine whether prefrontal cortical or posterior cortical systems control our behavior and thought. Understanding these receptor mechanisms has led to new, intelligent treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders associated with PFC dysfunction.

Keywords: norepinephrine, adrenoceptor, frontal lobe, working memory, guanfacine, prazosin, clenbuterol, betaxolol, cAMP, protein kinase C

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