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Neurology. 1977 Aug;27(8):783-90.

Memory and cognitive function in man: does the cholinergic system have a specific role?


Interference with cholinergic function produces disruption of memory/cognitive (M/C) performance in both animals and man. It is uncertain whether this disruption is due to a specific relation of cholinergic neurons to M/C functions, or whether the effect is nonspecific, resulting either from alteration of alertness and attention, or from a "mass action" effect, with loss of functioning neurons. Scopolamine was given to normal subjects to produce an M/C impairment. Half the test subjects then received physostigmine and half d-amphetamine. Physostigmine, a pharmacologic antagonist of scopolamine, markedly improved M/C functions; amphetamine failed to produce M/C improvement, although alertness was improved, and activity in catecholaminergic neurons presumably increased. This comparison supports a specific role for cholinergic neurons in M/C processes. Possible mechanisms of cholinergic neural functioning in memory include plasticity of cholinergic synapses, as well as other acetylcholine-depended operations of the limbic system crucial to memory.

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