Pharmacodynamic, Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacogenetic Aspects of Drugs Used in the Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease

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With the aging population and its rapidly increasing prevalence, dementia has become an important public health concern in developed and developing countries. To date, the pharmacological treatment is symptomatic and based on the observed neurotransmitter disturbances. The four most commonly used drugs are donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine and memantine. Donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors with different pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic profiles. Donepezil inhibits selectively the acetylcholinesterase and has a long elimination half-life (t1/2) of 70 h. Galantamine is also a selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, but also modulates presynaptic nicotinic receptors. It has a t1/2 of 6 - 8 h. Donepezil and galantamine are mainly metabolised by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2D6 and CYP3A4 in the liver. Rivastigmine is a so-called ‘pseudo-irreversible’ inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase. The t1/2 of the drug is very short (1 - 2 h), but the duration of action is longer as the enzymes are blocked for around 8. 5 and 3. 5 h, respectively. Rivastigmine is metabolised by esterases in liver and intestine. Memantine is a non-competitive low-affinity antagonist of the NMDA receptor with a t1/2 of 70 h. Its major route of elimination is unchanged via the kidneys. Addressing the issue of inter-patient variability in treatment response might be of special importance for the vulnerable population taking anti-dementia drugs. Pharmacogenetic considerations might help to avoid multiple medication changes due to non-response and/or adverse events. Some pharmacogenetic studies conducted on donepezil and galantamine reported an influence of the CYP2D6 genotype on the pharmacokinetics of the drugs and/or on the response to treatment. Moreover, polymorphisms in genes of the cholinergic markers acetylcholinesterase, butyrylcholinesterase, choline acetyltransferase and paraoxonase were found to be associated with better clinical response to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. However, confirmation studies in larger populations are necessary to establish evidence of which subgroups of patients will most likely benefit from anti-dementia drugs. The aim of this review is to summarize the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of the four commonly used anti-dementia drugs and to give an overview on the current knowledge of pharmacogenetics in this field.

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