Author(s): Poirier J
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Abstract Since degenerative alterations associated with cholinergic changes in the brains of demented patients occur in specific regions, optimal efficacy may be achieved by targeting the actions of potent cholinesterase inhibitors in relevant regions. When evaluating the activities of these agents, only cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-based studies in demented patients provide reliable data. Preclinical or healthy volunteer studies of cholinesterase inhibitory activity using plasma or erythrocytes as an enzyme source are inconclusive due to differences between enzymes, their relative activities, and the profiles of their isoforms from different sources, with additional changes during disease progression. Tacrine and rivastigmine inhibit both acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE) in the CSF of Alzheimer's disease patients. Both enzymes are involved in the breakdown of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain and dual inhibition may lead to greater, broader efficacy, as well as a greater potential for disease modification. However, potent and rapid elevation in levels of ACh may also induce more acute tolerability problems, such as nausea and vomiting. Only rivastigmine appears to show brain region-selectivity, particularly for regions involved in attention and behaviour and that are known to degenerate during the progression of various dementia types. This selectivity is due to preferential inhibition of the G1 form of AChE and, probably, also BuChE. Cholinesterase inhibitors that lack preferential selectivity for particular isoforms may provide less targeted actions. This may explain the relatively higher incidences of certain peripheral side effects observed during maintenance treatment with some of these drugs. All cholinesterase inhibitors interact via ACh, additionally available due to enzyme inhibition, with nicotinic and muscarinic receptors (nAChRs and mAChRs). Allosteric modulation of a presynaptic nAChR has been shown in vitro with many of these agents, and it has been proposed, but not demonstrated, that this may result in an increased release and potentiation of ACh in the brain. The clinical relevance of this mechanism is unknown. The rapidly reversible actions of donepezil, tacrine and galantamine may lead to tolerance due to their ability to upregulate target enzyme activities; however upregulation is not seen with the slowly reversible (pseudo-irreversible) inhibitor rivastigmine. Available clinical data support the hypothesis that potent, slowly reversible inhibitors of AChE and BuChE targeted to the G1 isoforms may lead to greater, broader and more sustained benefits. However, further investigation of the cholinesterase inhibitors to elucidate more definitely the clinical consequences of their differing pharmacological properties is required.
This article was published in Int J Clin Pract Suppl
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy