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Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2012;(208):121-66. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-23274-9_7.

Muscarinic receptor pharmacology and circuitry for the modulation of cognition.

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Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.


The muscarinic cholinergic system constitutes an important part of the neuronal circuitry that modulates normal cognition. Muscarinic receptor antagonists are well known to produce or exacerbate impairments in attention, learning, and memory. Conversely, both direct-acting muscarinic receptor agonists and indirect-acting muscarinic cholinergic agonists, such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, have shown cognition-enhancing properties, including improvements in normal cognitive function, reversal of cognitive deficits induced by muscarinic receptor antagonists, and attenuation of cognitive deficits in psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. However, until recently, the lack of small molecule ligands that antagonize or activate specific muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) subtypes with high selectivity has been a major obstacle in defining the relative contributions of individual mAChRs to different aspects of cognitive function and for the development of novel therapeutic agents. These limitations may be potentially overcome by the recent discovery of novel mAChR subtype-selective compounds, notably allosteric agonists and positive allosteric modulators, which exhibit greater selectivity for individual mAChR subtypes than previous mAChR orthosteric agonists. In preclinical studies, these novel ligands have shown promising efficacy in several models for the enhancement of cognition. In this chapter, we will review the muscarinic cholinergic circuitry and pharmacology of mAChR agonists and antagonists relevant to the modulation of different aspects of cognition in animals and clinical populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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