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Life Sci. 1994;55(25-26):2037-49.

Rodent models of memory dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease and normal aging: moving beyond the cholinergic hypothesis.

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Nathan W. Shock Laboratories, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD 21224.


The Stone maze paradigm has been developed for use as a rat model of memory impairment observed in normal aging and in Alzheimer's disease. Results from several studies have demonstrated the involvement of both cholinergic and glutamatergic systems in acquisition performance in this complex maze task. Although results of clinical studies on the cognitive enhancing abilities of cholinomimetics for treatment of memory impairment in Alzheimer's disease have been inconsistent, new classes of cholinesterase inhibitors offer greater potential for therapeutic efficacy. The physostigimine derivative, phenserine, appears to have marked efficacy for improving learning performance of aged rats or of young rats treated with scopolamine in the Stone maze. Declines in markers of glutamatergic neurotransmission in Alzheimer's disease and in normal aging suggest that pharmacological manipulation of this system might also prove beneficial for cognitive enhancement. Treatment with glycine and/or polyamine agonists is suggested as a strategy for activating the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptor. In addition, the use of combined pharmacological activation of cholinergic and glutamatergic systems is suggested. Manipulation of signal transduction events should also be considered as a strategy for cognitive enhancement. The influx of Ca2+ through the channel formed by the NMDA receptor stimulates the production of the oxyradical, nitric oxide (NO*), via the action of nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Compounds that inhibit NOS activity impair acquisition in the Stone maze, suggesting an involvement of NO*. Thus, strategies for inducing NO* production to enhance cognitive performance may be beneficial. Because of the potential neurotoxicity for NO*, this strategy is not straightforward. Although many new directions beyond the cholinergic hypothesis can be suggested, each has its potential benefits which must be weighed against its risks. Nonetheless, an important unifying area for neurobiological research examining mechanisms of normal brain aging and of age-related neuropathology, as observed in Alzheimer's disease, might emerge from the identification of NO* as a simple molecule serving vital physiological functions but representing potential for neurotoxicity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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