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Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2003 Oct;5(5):391-9.

The cholinergic hypothesis of cognitive impairment caused by traumatic brain injury.

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Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit, Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital, Aurora, CO 80011, USA.


Cognitive impairments are among the most common neuropsychiatric sequelae of traumatic brain injury at all levels of severity. Cerebral cholinergic neurons and their ascending projections are particularly vulnerable to acute and chronic traumatically mediated dysfunction. In light of the important role of acetylcholine in arousal, attention, memory, and other aspects of cognition, cerebral cholinergic systems contribute to and may also be a target for pharmacologic remediation among individuals with post-traumatic cognitive impairments. This article will review the evidence in support of this hypothesis. Evidence of relatively selective damage to cholinergic injury, the development of persistent anticholinergic sensitivity, and the effects of cholinergic augmentation on memory performance are presented first. Thereafter, neuropathologic, electrophysiologic, and pharmacologic evidence of cholinergic dysfunction after traumatic brain injury in humans is reviewed. Finally, future directions for investigation of the cholinergic hypothesis and possible clinical applications of this information are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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