Two of the more consistent findings in Alzheimer's disease are depressions in frontal and temporoparietal glucose metabolism and a loss of cholinergic neurons in the nucleus basalis of Meynert. Nonetheless, cholinergic replacement strategies have had only minimal therapeutic successes. Whether this situation reflects the limited contribution of cholinergic deafferentation to the intellectual decline or the meager ability of the pharmaceuticals tested to exert their intended pharmacologic action remains unclear. To address this question, the distribution of cerebral abnormalities found in untreated Alzheimer patients, as revealed by positron emission tomography following 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose, were compared with the pattern of functional changes produced by drugs that block or stimulate cholinergic function. Physostigmine was administered to 6 Alzheimer patients to increase brain cholinergic neurotransmission. The anticholinergic scopolamine, given to normal volunteers, was administered to 6 age-matched controls. These data were compared to those obtained from the same subjects while receiving placebo. Amnestic doses of the anticholinergic, scopolamine increased glucose metabolism by up to 20% (p < 0.001) in all brain regions studied, except thalamus. This response contrasted with the metabolic reductions of up to 17% (p < 0.01), especially in parietal and frontal association cortices, occurring in unmedicated Alzheimer patients. Maximum tolerated doses of the anticholinesterase, physostigmine, rather than tending to normalize abnormalities in these patients, further reduced cerebral metabolism (p < 0.01) and increased metabolism in thalamus in a pattern inversely correlated (p < 0.001) with that produced by scopolamine. These results fail to support a cholinergic basis for the abnormal metabolic pattern in Alzheimer's disease.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology