Posted on Sep 27, 2010, 6 a.m.
Donepezil, a drug used to treat the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, may boost cognition in healthy people.
Neuroscientists have found that the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil (Aripcept), which is used to treat the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, can increase a healthy person’s ability to learn a new skill. Ariel Rokem, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California – Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, and his colleague Michael Silver, an assistant professor of optometry and neuroscience, investigated the cognitive effects of donepezil on 12, healthy, non-smoking subjects aged 18-35. The subjects were tasked with detecting whether or not two fields of moving dots, presented one after the other, were moving in the same direction. Each subject completed two 5-day courses of training on the task. For one course, the subjects were given 5 milligrams of donepezil before every training session, and in the other, they took a placebo capsule before each training session. Results showed that, on average, the amount of improvement in performance of the task due to training increased two-fold when the subject had undergone training under the influence of the drug. "This is the first study to show that donepezil can enhance learning of a new skill, even in normal, healthy people," said Dr Silver. Donepezil is a cholinesterase inhibitor and thus enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Studies have shown that acetylcholine plays an important role in mediating visual attention and, in animal studies, it has been found to promote changes in the brain that are associated with learning.
Rokem A. Silver MA. Cholinergic Enhancement Augments Magnitude and Specificity of Visual Perceptual Learning in Healthy Humans. Current Biology. Epub ahead of print 16 September 2010.