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M1 Muscarinic Agonists as Potential Disease-Modifying Agents in Alzheimer's Disease: Rationale and Perspectives


Address for correspondence: Dr. Abraham Fisher, Israel Institute for Biological Research, P.O. Box 19, Ness-Ziona 74100, Israel. Tel: + (972)-8-381-603; fax: + (972)-8-381-615. e-mail:


Abstract: A cholinergic hypofunction in Alzheimer's disease (AD) may lead to formation of β-amyloids that might impair the coupling of M1 muscarinic ACh receptors (mAChRs) with G proteins. This disruption in coupling can lead to decreased signal transduction, to a reduction in levels of trophic amyloid precursor proteins (APPs), and to generation of more β-amyloids that can also suppress ACh synthesis and release, aggravating further the cholinergic deficiency. These “vicious cycles,” a presynaptic and a postsynaptic one, may be inhibited, in principle, by M1 selective agonists. Such properties can be detected in the functionally selective M1 agonists from the AF series [e.g., project drugs, AF102B, AF150(S)]. These M1 agonists promote the nonamyloidogenic APP processing pathways and decrease tau protein phosphorylation. The effects on tau proteins suggest a link between M1 mAChR-mediated signal transduction system(s) and the neuronal cytoskeleton via regulation of phosphorylation of tau microtubule-associated protein. This may indicate a dual role for M1 agonists: as inhibitors of two “vicious cycles,” one induced by β-amyloids, and the other due to overactivation of certain kinases (e.g., glycogen synthase kinase-3, GSK-3) or downregulation of phosphatases, respectively. Prolonged administration of AF150(S) in apolipoprotein E-knockout mice restored cognitive impairments, cholinergic hypofunction, and tau hyperphosphorylation, and unveiled a high-affinity binding site to M1 mAChRs. Except M1 agonists, there are no reports of compounds having such combined effects, for example, amelioration of cognition dysfunction and beneficial modulation of APPs together with tau phosphorylation. This unique property of M1 agonists to alter different aspects of AD pathogenesis could represent the most remarkable, yet unexplored, clinical value of such compounds.