Dose-specific improvements in memory-related task performance by rats and aged monkeys administered the nicotinic-cholinergic antagonist mecamylamine

Alvin V. Terry, J. J. Buccafusco, M. A. Prendergast

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The centrally acting nicotinic-cholinergic antagonist mecamylamine (mec) is well documented to produce amnestic effects in animals and humans. However, in certain circumstances the compound has enhanced performance of some memory-related tasks in animals and further investigation of this paradoxical effect is warranted. The present study was designed to determine under what conditions mec would enhance memory-task performance in rats and aged nonhuman primates. Mec (various doses) or saline was administered IP to rats tested in the Morris Water Maze (MWM), to rats trained to perform a delayed stimulus discrimination task (DSDT), and IM to aged rhesus monkeys (average age 24.6 years) trained to perform a delayed matching to sample task (DMTS). In rats, mec 1.0 mg/kg improved location of the hidden platform on day 1 of the MWM, but inhibited learning in subsequent trials, while several μg/kg doses improved DSDT accuracy. Further, some μg/kg doses of mec also improved accuracy in aged monkeys in DMTS at both 10 min and 24 h after administration. Mec had no effect on swim speeds in the MWM, response latencies in the DSDT, or on choice or response latencies in the DMTS task. Collectively, the results indicate that some doses of mec can mimic certain memory-enhancing effects produced by nicotinic-acetylcholine receptor agonists. It is not clear whether mec is acting as a partial agonist in this regard, or whether low-level nicotinic antagonism produces a cellular response that is in some way analogous to nicotine-induced receptor desensitization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-136
Number of pages10
JournalDrug Development Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999



  • Desensitization
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Nicotine
  • Receptor blockade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery

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