Psychopharmacology

, Volume 215, Issue 2, pp 205–229 | Cite as

Cholinergic receptor subtypes and their role in cognition, emotion, and vigilance control: An overview of preclinical and clinical findings

  • Susanne Graef
  • Peter Schönknecht
  • Osama Sabri
  • Ulrich Hegerl
Review

Abstract

Rationale

The cholinergic system has long been linked to cognitive processes. Two main classes of acetylcholine (ACh) receptors exist in the human brain, namely muscarinic and nicotinic receptors, of which several subtypes occur.

Objectives

This review seeks to provide an overview of previous findings on the influence of cholinergic receptor manipulations on cognition in animals and humans, with particular emphasis on the role of selected cholinergic receptor subtypes. Furthermore, the involvement of these receptor subtypes in the regulation of emotion and brain electrical activity as measured by electroencephalography (EEG) shall be addressed since these domains are considered to be important modulators of cognitive functioning.

Results

In regard to cognition, the muscarinic receptor subtypes have been implicated mainly in memory functions, but have also been linked to attentional processes. The nicotinic α7 receptor subtype is involved in working memory, whereas the α4β2* subtype has been linked to tests of attention. Both muscarinic and nicotinic cholinergic mechanisms play a role in modulating brain electrical activity. Nicotinic receptors have been strongly associated with the modulation of depression and anxiety.

Conclusions

Cholinergic receptor manipulations have an effect on cognition, emotion, and brain electrical activity as measured by EEG. Changes in cognition can result from direct cholinergic receptor manipulation or from cholinergically induced changes in vigilance or affective state.

Keywords

nAChR Nicotinic receptor Acetylcholine receptor Vigilance Cognition Working memory Attention Depression Anxiety 

Abbreviations

5-CSRT

Five-choice serial reaction time

ACh

Acetylcholine

CPT

Continuous performance task

EEG

Electroencephalography

FDG

Fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose

HVS

High-voltage spindle

mAChR

Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor

MPTP

Methylphenyltetrahydropyridin

nAChR

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

PET

Positron emission tomography

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susanne Graef
    • 1
    • 3
  • Peter Schönknecht
    • 1
  • Osama Sabri
    • 2
  • Ulrich Hegerl
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Department of Nuclear MedicineUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain SciencesLeipzigGermany

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