Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Effects of Nicotine on Attention, Information Processing, and Short-Term Memory in Patients with Dementia of the Alzheimer Type

  • Barbara Sahakian (a1), Gemma Jones (a2), Raymond Levy (a1), Jeffrey Gray (a3) and David Warburton (a4)...


Nicotine in patients with dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) producted a significant and marked improvement in discriminative sensitivity and reaction times on a computerised test of attention and information processing. Nicotine also improved the ability of DAT patients to detect a flickering light in a critical flicker fusion test. These results suggest that nicotine may be acting on cortical mechanisms involved in visual perception and attention, and support the hypothesis that acetylcholine transmission modulates vigilance and discrimination. Nicotine may therefore be of some value in treating deficits in attention and information processing in DAT patients.


Corresponding author

Section of Old Age Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF


Hide All
Bartus, R. T., Dean, R. L. III, Beer, B., et al (1982) The cholinergic hypothesis of geriatric memory dysfunction. Science, 217, 408417.
Candy, J. M., Fairburn, A. F., Johnson, M., et al (1986) Hippocampal cholinergic (muscarinic and putative nicotinic) receptors in human cognitive disorders. Proceedings of the British Pharmacological Society Abstracts, 88, Suppl., 359P.
Clarke, P. B. S., Hamill, G. S., Nadi, N. S. et al (1986) II-nicotine and 125I-alpha-bungarotoxin labelled nicotine receptors in the interpeduncular nucleus of rats. II: Effects of habenular deafferentation. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 251, 407413.
Davies, P. & Feisullin, S. (1981) Postmortem stability of alpha-bungarotoxin binding sites in mouse and human brain. Brain Research, 216, 449454.
Drachman, D. A. & Sahakian, B. J. (1979) Effects of cholinergic agents on human learning and memory. In Nutrition and the Brain, vol. 5 (eds Barbeau, A., Growdon, J. H. & Wurtman, R. J.), pp. 351366. New York: Raven.
Dunnett, S. B. (1985) Comparative effects of cholinergic drugs and lesions of nucleus basalis or fimbria-fornix on delayed matching in rats. Psychopharmacology, 87, 357363.
Flynn, D. D. & Mash, D. C. (1985) Nicotine receptors in human frontal and inferotemporal cortex: comparison between Alzheimer's disease and normal. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 11, 11191120.
Francis, P. T., Palmer, A. M., Sims, N. R., et al (1985) Neurochemical studies of early-onset Alzheimer's disease: possible influence on treatment. New England Journal of Medicine, 313, 711.
Hughes, C. P., Berg, L., Danziger, W. L., et al (1982) A new clinical scale for the staging of dementia. British Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 566572.
McKhann, G., Drachman, D., Folstein, M., et al (1985) Clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Report of NINCDS-ADRDA Work Group under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Alzheimer's disease. Neurology, 34, 939944.
McNicol, D. (1972) A Primer of Signal Detection Theory. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Mitchell, S. N., Brazell, M. B. & Joseph, M. H. et al (1987) Regional differences in the effect of nicotine on catecholamine turnover in the rat CNS. British Journal of Pharmacology, 91, 430P.
Nelson, H. E. (1982) National Adult Reading Test (NART) Test Manual. Windsor: NFER-Nelson.
Perry, E. K., Tomlinson, B. E., Blessed, G., et al (1978) Correlation of cholinergic abnormalities with senile plaques and mental test scores in senile dementia. British Medical Journal, ii 14571459.
Pert, A. & Chiueh, C. C. (1986) Effects of intracerebral nicotinic agonists on locomotor activity: involvement of mesolimbic dopamine. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 12, 250254.
Philpot, M. P. & Levy, R. (1987) A memory clinic for the early diagnosis of dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2, 195200.
Rinne, J., Rinne, J. K., Laakso, K., et al (1984) Reduction in muscarinic receptor binding in limbic areas of Alzheimer brain. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 47, 651653.
Rowell, P. & Winkler, D. L. (1984) Nicotinic stimulation of 3H-acetylcholine release from mouse cerebral cortical synaptosomes. Journal of Neurochemistry, 43, 15931598.
Sahakian, B. J. (1988) Cholinergic drugs and human cognitive performance. In Handbook of Psychopharmacology, vol. 20: Psychopharmacology of the Ageing Nervous System (eds Iversen, L., Iversen, S. D. & Snyder, S. H.), pp. 393424. New York: Plenum.
Sahgal, A. (1987a) Contrasting effects of vasopressin, desglycinamide–vasopressin and amphetamine on a delayed matching to position task in rats. Psychopharmacology, 93, 243249.
Sahgal, A. (1987b) Some limitations of indices derived from signal detection theory: evaluation of an alternative index for measuring bias in memory tasks. Psychopharmacology, 91, 517520.
Smith, J. M. & Misiak, H. (1976) Critical flicker frequency (CFF) and psychotropic drugs in normal human subjects–a review. Psychopharmacology, 47, 175182.
Warburton, D. M. (1987) Drugs and the processing of information. In Cognitive Neurochemistry (eds Stahl, S. M., Iversen, S. D. & Goodman, E. C.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wesnes, K. & Warburton, D. M. (1984) Effects of scopolamine and nicotine on human rapid information processing performance. Psychopharmacology, 82, 147150.
West, R. J. & Jarvis, M. J. (1986) Effects of nicotine on finger tapping rate in non smokers. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behaviour, 25, 727731.
White, P., Hiley, C. R., Goodhart, M. J., et al (1977) Neo-cortical cholinergic neurons in elderly people. Lancet, i 668670.

The Effects of Nicotine on Attention, Information Processing, and Short-Term Memory in Patients with Dementia of the Alzheimer Type

  • Barbara Sahakian (a1), Gemma Jones (a2), Raymond Levy (a1), Jeffrey Gray (a3) and David Warburton (a4)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

The Effects of Nicotine on Attention, Information Processing, and Short-Term Memory in Patients with Dementia of the Alzheimer Type

  • Barbara Sahakian (a1), Gemma Jones (a2), Raymond Levy (a1), Jeffrey Gray (a3) and David Warburton (a4)...
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *