An acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (often abbreviated AChEI) or anti-cholinesterase is a chemical that inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme from breaking down acetylcholine, thereby increasing both the level and duration of action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Reversible, quasi-irreversible (or pseudirreversible in some sources) and irreversible inhibitors exist.
To treat Alzheimer's disease, Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson's disease. In these neurodegenerative conditions AChEIs are primarily used to treat the cognitive (memory and learning deficits mostly) symptoms of dementia. These symptoms are attenuate due to the role of acetylcholine in cognition in the CNS. There is some evidence to suggest that AChEIs may attenuate psychotic symptoms (especially visual hallucinations) in Parkinson's disease.
To treat cognitive impairments in patients with schizophrenia. There is some evidence to suggest efficacy in treating positive, negative and affective symptoms.
As a treatment for autism and to increase the percentage of Rapid eye movement sleep in autistic children, in line with the mechanism by which they encourage lucid dreaming.
When used in the central nervous system to alleviate neurological symptoms, such as rivastigmine in Alzheimer's disease, all cholinesterase inhibitors require doses to be increased gradually over several weeks, and this is usually referred to as the titration phase. Many other types drug treatments may require a titration or stepping up phase. This strategy is used to build tolerance to adverse events or to reach a desired clinical effect.
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