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A critical review of cholinesterase inhibitors as a treatment modality in Alzheimer's disease

By Lon S. Schneider


Early research into Alzheimer's disease launched the cholinergic hypothesis, based on the correlation between central cholinergic deficiency and clinical measures of cognitive decline. This was epitomized in therapeutic strategies employing a variety of procholinergic agents, of which only the inhibitors of cholinesterase (ChE), the enzyme thai hydrolyzes acetylcholine in the synaptic cleft, have been proven clinically viable. Five such agents are reviewed: tacrine and donepezil, which act at the ionic subsite of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), and rivastigmine, galantamine, and metrifonate, which act at its catalytic esteratic subsite. Despite statistical evidence of efficacy from numerous well-controlled multicenter trials, important clinical utility issues remain outstanding: (i) number-needed-to-treat (NNT) analyses, quantifying the number of patients needing to be treated for one patient to show benefit, find values of 3 to 20; (ii) the pivotal trials themselves were conducted in nonrepreseniative populations, largely comprised of physically healthy outpatients with mildto-moderate Alzheimer's disease and a mean age of 72 years (thereby excluding over 30% of typical Alzheimer patients in State of California-funded clinics), treated for up to 6 months; and (Hi) tolerability is underreported and characterized by a positive correlation between dose, effect and cholinergic side effects - potentially serious adverse events include bradycardia, anorexia, weight loss and myasthenia with respiratory depression. Therapies thus require titration and constant monitoring. Nevertheless, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEls) constitute the first class of effective agents and are likely to remain so in the continuing absence of viable alternatives

Topics: Pharmacological Aspects
Publisher: Les Laboratoires Servier
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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