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Giving neurotransmitters a second wind.

Giving neurotransmitters a second wind

While some medical scientists strive to find a cure for mentally debilitating diseases, others hope to find chemical compounds for fighting the symptoms. Called "nootropic agents," these compounds counter the neurochemical abnormalities that underlie learning and memory losses linked to ailments such as Alzheimer's disease. One promising compound -- huperzine A -- comes from a club moss species indigenous to China and known for centuries to Chinese herbalists, says chemist and neuroscientist Alan P. Kozikowski of the University of Pittsburgh.

In the May 24 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, he and co-worker Yan Xia (now at the National Institute on Aging) describe a short and practical laboratory procedure for synthesizing huperzine A. Animal studies in China, Switzerland and the United States have shown the club moss chemical improves animals' performance in tasks that involve memory. Kozikowski notes Chinese researchers have reported evidence the compound improves the memory of elderly people suffering memory problems. Presently, it takes a ton of the club moss to yield small fractions of a gram of huperzine A. Kozikowski says his 12-step laboratory synthesis (and perhaps another similar procedure just published by Chinese researchers) can produce gram amounts of the chemical, enough to begin clinical testing.

Huperzine A works by blocking acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine after it has passed neural information from one neuron to another or to muscle fibers. Alzheimer's disease slowly wrecks the machinery for making acetylcholine in some areas of the brain. By blocking the natural destruction of the neurotransmitter, huperzine A and other less active, but similarly acting, nootropic agents empower the lower amounts of acetylcholine in diseased brains to work overtime, Kozikowski told SCIENCE NEWS. With funding from a Pennsylvania program, he has started a company to scale up synthesis of huperzine A and other nootropic agents.
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Title Annotation:Chemistry; nootropic agent, huperzine A
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 10, 1989
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