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Drugs. 2001;61(1):41-52.

Cholinesterase inhibitors for Alzheimer's disease.

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Alzheimer Disease Research Center and Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common age-related neurodegenerative disease and has become an urgent public health problem in most areas of the world. Substantial progress has been made in understanding the basic neurobiology of AD and, as a result, new drugs for its treatment have become available. Cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs), which increase the availability of acetylcholine in central synapses, have become the main approach to symptomatic treatment. ChEIs that have been approved or submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include tacrine, donepezil, metrifonate, rivastigmine and galantamine. In this review we discuss their pharmacology, clinical experience to date with their use and their potential benefits or disadvantages. ChEIs have a significant, although modest, effect on the cognitive status of patients with AD. In addition to their effect on cognition, ChEIs have a positive effect on mood and behaviour. Uncertainty remains about the duration of the benefit because few studies of these compounds beyond one year have been published. Although ChEIs are generally well tolerated, all patients should be followed closely for possible adverse effects. There is no substantial difference in the effectivenes of the various ChEIs, however, they may have different safety profiles. We believe the benefits of their use outweigh the risks and costs and, therefore, ChEls should be considered as primary therapy for patients with mild to moderate AD.

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