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Neurobiol Aging. 1984 Fall;5(3):227-33.

Cholinergic drug effects and brain muscarinic receptor binding in aged rats.


Muscarinic systems are significantly altered in the brains of laboratory animals and man as a result of normal aging. Cholinergic neurotransmission in cerebral cortex and hippocampus is also severely impaired in a major age-related neurological disorder, Alzheimer's disease. The objective of these studies was to assess specific 3H-quinuclidinyl benzilate (3H-QNB) binding to brain muscarinic receptors in young, adult and senescent Fischer 344 rats, and to relate receptor changes to differences in the pharmacologic actions of cholinergic drugs. Muscarinic receptor density declined with advanced age in the frontal cortex, corpus striatum and hypothalamus, but no age-related changes in receptor affinity were observed. Specific binding of 3H-QNB in hippocampus was not significantly altered. In contrast, the in vivo effects of oxotremorine (hypothermia and antinociception) were markedly enhanced in aged rats, whereas scopolamine-induced locomotor activity was reduced. Hence, senescent rats were more sensitive to the pharmacologic actions of a cholinergic agonist, but less responsive than young rats to a muscarinic antagonist. These seemingly contradictory results of binding experiments and pharmacological studies could be due, in part, to changes in subtypes of brain muscarinic receptors with advanced age. Alternatively, the age-related differences in cholinergic drug effects may reflect a decreased ability of the senescent animal to adapt to changes in its environment.

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