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Rev Neurosci. 1995 Jul-Sep;6(3):221-58.

GABAergic deafferentation hypothesis of brain aging and Alzheimer's disease; pharmacologic profile of the benzodiazepine antagonist, flumazenil.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Illinois, Chicago 60612 USA.


Recent experiments have shown that: 1) A chronic 10 month daily administration to rats of the benzodiazepine (BDZ) receptor antagonist, flumazenil (FL; 4 mg/kg in drinking water), from the age of 13 through 22 months, significantly retarded the age-related loss of cognitive functions, as ascertained by the radial arm maze tests conducted two months after FL withdrawal. 2) An equal number of 8 rats died in the control and FL-treated group before the behavioral tests were completed and the animals were sacrificed; the life span of the FL-treated 8 rats equaled 24.0 (+/- 0.6 SEM) months, while that of the control 8 rats equaled 22.3 months (+/- 0.7 SEM), and the group difference was marginally significant (p = 0.04 Mann-Whitney test). 3) In rats sacrificed 3 months after FL withdrawal and behavioral testing, the protective action of FL, relative to age-matched controls, was revealed by a significant reduction in the age-related loss of neurons in the hippocampal formation. 4) In the time period of 3 months between the drug withdrawal and sacrificing of the animals, stress experienced by the aging rats during behavioral testing, related to excessive daily handling of the animals and partial food deprivation to motivate them to perform in the radial arm maze, apparently had excitotoxic effects on the hippocampal neurons, as indexed by the presence of 30% neurons in a state of moderate pyknosis found both in the FL group and the age-matched controls. In the 6 months "young" control group, the number of pyknotic neurons equaled only 3.5%. It was concluded that the drug withdrawal and stress of behavioral testing unleashed the previously FL-controlled age-related degeneration. On the basis of these results and the literature, showing that the tone of the GABAergic system increases with age, and particularly in Alzheimer's disease (AD), the hypothesis of brain aging was formulated. It postulates that in mammals, with growing age, and prematurely in humans with AD, the increasing tone of the BDZ/GABAergic system interferes with antero- and retrograde axonal transport through a chronic depolarizing block of preterminal axon varicosities of the ascending aminergic and cholinergic/peptidergic systems, which are indispensable for normal metabolic/trophic glial-neuronal relationships. Such a state leads to discrete anatomic deafferentation of forebrain systems, and particularly of the neocortex, where block of the anterograde axonal transport results in induction of the cortical mRNA responsible for synthesis of the beta-amyloid precursor protein (beta APP). The simultaneous block of retrograde transport from chronically depolarized preterminal axon varicosities may account for toxic accumulation in cortex of the nerve growth factor (NGF) and other trophins, without which the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons degenerate. The general pharmacologic profile of FL has been discussed on the basis of FL administration to animals and healthy and diseased humans. This profile shows that FL: 1) increases brain metabolic functions; 2) reduces emotional responses, thereby stabilizing the functions of the autonomic system in both humans and animals challenged by adverse environmental stimuli; 3) improves cognitive and coordinated motor functions in both humans and animals; 4) uniquely combines anxiolytic, vigilance and cognitive enhancing, i.e. nootropic, properties, which may, in part, stem from FL-induced emotional imperturbability (ataraxy); 5) facilitates habituation of healthy humans and animals to novel but inconsequential environmental stimuli, and promotes non-aggressive interactions among animals; 6) in single i.v. doses, and administered chronically to humans, FL has antiepileptic actions in the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and other forms of epilepsy characterized by "spike-and-dome" EEG patterns; these actions are likely to depend on FL's disinhibition of the serotonin system; 7) administered in single i.v...

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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