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Biochem Pharmacol. 2007 Oct 15;74(8):1212-23. Epub 2007 Jul 7.

Neuronal nicotinic receptor agonists for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: focus on cognition.

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Massachusetts General Hospital, Pediatric Psychopharmacology Research Unit, Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care-YAW 6A, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children and adolescents, and in about half of these patients, significant symptomology continues into adulthood. Although impulsivity and hyperactivity are the most salient features of ADHD, cognitive deficits, particularly impairments in attention and executive function, are an important component, particularly in adolescents and adults, with over 90% of adults seeking treatment for ADHD manifesting cognitive dysfunction. Currently available medications treat the core ADHD symptoms but typically do not adequately address cognitive aspects of ADHD, underscoring the need for new therapeutics. Dopamine and norepinephrine are hypothesized to be particularly important in ADHD, but there is emerging evidence that cholinergic neurotransmission, particularly involving neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), may play a role in the pathophysiology of ADHD. Nicotine has demonstrated procognitive effects in both humans and experimental animals and has produced signals of efficacy in small proof-of-concept adult ADHD trials. Although adverse effects associated with nicotine preclude its development as a therapeutic, a number of novel nAChR agonists with improved safety/tolerability profiles have been discovered. Of these, ABT-418 and ABT-089 have both demonstrated signals of efficacy in adults with ADHD. Notably, tolerability issues that might be expected of a nAChR agonist, such as nausea and emesis, were not observed at efficacious doses of ABT-089. Further understanding of the effects of novel neuronal nAChR agonists on specific aspects of cognitive functioning in ADHD is required to assess the full potential of this approach.

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