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Pharmacol Res. 1997 Dec;36(6):463-9.

Tacrine administration enhances extracellular acetylcholine in vivo and restores the cognitive impairment in aged rats.

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Department of Preclinical and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Florence, Viale Morgagni 65, Florence, 50134, Italy.


The effect of oral tacrine administration on cortical and hippocampal extracellular acetylcholine (ACh) levels has been investigated by a microdialysis technique, coupled to a HPLC method, in 6- and 22-24-month-old rats. In order to assess whether the increase in extracellular ACh levels was associated with an improvement in the age-related cognitive impairment, the object recognition and step-trough passive avoidance tests were carried out in the treated rats. The extracellular ACh levels measured in the cortex and hippocampus of aged rats without cholinesterase inhibitor in the perfusion Ringer solution were 39 and 54% lower, respectively, than in the young rats. At the dose of 3 mg kg-1, tacrine brought about a three- to four-fold increase in extracellular ACh levels, both in young and aged rats, which peaked 60-80 min after administration and disappeared within the next 60 min. At the same dose, tacrine caused a twofold increase in extracellular ACh levels in the hippocampus of young rats and a sixfold increase in aged rats. The absolute ACh levels at the peak in aged rats were not significantly different from those of young rats. In the object recognition test, aging rats were unable to discriminate between the familiar and novel object. Discrimination was restored by the administration of tacrine at the dose of 1 and 3 mg kg-1, but not 0. 3 mg kg-1 given 30 min before the first trial. Tacrine (3 mg kg-1 p. o.) administered to aging rats before the training trial significantly improved the acquisition of the passive avoidance conditioned response. Our findings demonstrate that tacrine increased both cortical and hippocampal extracellular ACh levels and improved behavioural functions in aged rats.

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