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Have cholinergic therapies reached their clinical boundary in Alzheimer's disease?

Jones, Roy W.


Roy W. Jones


The cholinergic hypothesis suggests that Alzheimer's disease (AD) results from a selective loss in cholinergic neurons with decreased acetylcholine levels. Treatments that increase the level of acetylcholine would be expected to provide clinical benefit. Clinical trials of dietary precursors of acetylcholine and muscarinic receptor agonists have been unsuccessful. Further research is needed to confirm whether nicotine or nicotinic agonists are of value. The most successful approach has been to increase acetylcholine levels by inhibiting cholinesterase function. A number of cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEI) show clinical efficacy including phyostigmine but it is poorly tolerated. Tacrine, the first ChEI to be licensed for AD, needs frequent administration and causes a specific reversible hepatotoxicity. Three ChEI, donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine are widely available. They are effective in mild to moderate (and possibly severe) AD. Tolerability is improved by slow dose titration and there are a significant number of non-responders. Donepezil appears to be effective, the simplest to use and the best tolerated. Rivastigmine is effective but less well tolerated: galantamine is also very effective with intermediate tolerability. Although there are pharmacological differences between the three compounds, it remains uncertain whether these are clinically relevant. There are still unanswered questions. It is difficult to predict who will respond to the drugs and it is unclear how long treatment benefits last. At present there are little data to support the suggestion of activity beyond symptomatic benefit. Trials are also being conducted in Mild Cognitive Impairment, other dementias and other conditions where cognitive impairment is a problem. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Jones, R. W. (2003). Have cholinergic therapies reached their clinical boundary in Alzheimer's disease?. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 18(SUPPL. 1), S7-S13.

Journal Article Type Conference Paper
Publication Date Sep 1, 2003
Journal International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Print ISSN 0885-6230
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 18
Issue SUPPL. 1
Pages S7-S13
Keywords Alzheimer's disease, cholinergic therapies, dementia
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