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Chapter 3 - Molecular Mechanisms of Drug-Induced Cognitive Enhancement

The concept of improving cognitive performance is particularly enticing, not just to ameliorate mental illness or slow-down physiological cognitive decline with aging, but also to enhance our natural cognitive abilities. There has been considerable progress in understanding the neuronal mechanisms that support higher cognitive functions, including learning and memory. A central aspect of these mechanisms is synaptic plasticity. A large amount of mechanistic information is now available on the molecules and intracellular signaling processes mediating synaptic plasticity, and by inference, cognitive function. In this chapter we will highlight a few molecular or pharmacological manipulations that have been shown to improve cognitive performance in animals, and in some cases, in humans. These examples will be organized around three major steps of the synaptic plasticity process: induction of plasticity via activation of NMDA receptors, modulation of intracellular signaling pathways triggered by activity, and expression of synaptic changes via regulation of AMPA receptor function.

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