Evidence for synergistic modulation of early information processing by nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in humans



Impairments in early information processing are a hallmark feature of diverse neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Several lines of evidence implicate a dysfunction of the cholinergic system in these disorders, particularly in AD where there is known degeneration in major cholinergic pathways. Inspection time (IT), a measure of early visual information processing speed, has been shown to be sensitive to cholinergic manipulation. The current study employed the IT task to (1) examine the independent roles of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in modulating information processing and (2) investigate the interaction of nicotinic and muscarinic receptor systems in modulating information processing. Twelve healthy participants completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study under four drug conditions; (1) placebo, (2) mecamylamine (15 mg; oral), (3) scopolamine (0.4 mg, s.c.), (4) mecamylamine (15 mg)+scopolamine (0.4 mg). IT measures were examined at baseline and 2.5 h post drug administration. Selective blockade of nicotinic receptors with mecamylamine did not significantly impair IT, whereas selective blockade of muscarinic receptors with scopolamine produced a significant but small impairment in IT. Combined blockade of both receptor types with scopolamine and mecamylamine produced a large impairment in IT performance. The results indicate that both nicotinic and muscarinic receptors are involved in modulating IT, and that the two systems may function synergistically to modulate early visual information processing. These findings suggest that functional abnormalities in both nicotinic and muscarinic systems may underlie deficits in early visual information processing seen in disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.