Cholinesterase inhibitors

What are cholinesterase inhibitors?

Cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEI), or anticholinesterase, have been proposed as an additional therapy to standard antipsychotic treatments in an attempt to improve functional outcomes and treat symptoms that are not addressed by the antipsychotic medication alone. Cholinesterase inhibitors work by blocking the cholinesterase enzymes that break down acetylcholine neurotransmitters (ACh), increasing neurotransmitter action. Their action is in contrast to anticholinergic medications, which have an opposite effect, and block the action of cholinergic neurotransmitters on their receptors. There are two key forms of cholinesterase enzymes, acetyl cholinesterase (AChE) and butyryl cholinesterase (BChE). There are several different cholinesterase inhibitor drugs that target these enzymes, which vary in their specificity for each of these enzymes (‘singleaction’ or ‘dual-action’). Essentially, cholinesterase inhibitors work by blocking the cholinesterase enzyme from metabolising ACh, resulting in increased availability of ACh in neuron synapses and increasing ACh activity on cholinergic receptors (called nicotinic and muscarinic receptors). These receptors are known to be involved in cognition, and the use of cholinesterase inhibitors has previously shown some efficacy for improving cognition in Alzheimer’s disease. Aspects of cognition are known to be impaired in schizophrenia (See Cognition topics). Cholinesterase inhibitors have also been proposed as treatments for visual hallucinations, possibly due to depleted ACh levels in the cortex including regions involved in visual processing and interpretation.

What is the evidence for cholinesterase inhibitors?

Moderate to high quality evidence finds small to medium-sized effects of improved overall, negative and positive symptoms with adjunctive AChEIs compared to placebo.  There were also medium-sized improvements in memory, attention, processing speed and motor functioning with adjunctive AChEIs (particularly single-action), and small improvements in language functioning. Moderate to low quality evidence finds no differences in tardive dyskinesia.

October 2020

Last updated at: 4:54 am, 29th September 2020
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