Norepinephrine released by the locus coeruleus modulates cellular processes and synaptic transmission in the central nervous system through its actions at a number of pre- and postsynaptic receptors. This transmitter system facilitates sensory signal detection and promotes waking and arousal, processes which are necessary for navigating a complex and dynamic sensory environment. In addition to its effects on sensory processing and waking behavior, norepinephrine is now recognized as a contributor to various aspects of cognition, including attention, behavioral flexibility, working memory, and long-term mnemonic processes. Two areas of dense noradrenergic innervation, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, are particularly important with regard to these functions. Due to its role in mediating normal cognitive function, it is reasonable to expect that noradrenergic transmission becomes dysfunctional in a number of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases characterized by cognitive deficits. In this review, we summarize the unique role that norepinephrine plays in prefrontal cortical and hippocampal function and how its interaction with its various receptors contribute to cognitive behaviors. We further assess the changes that occur in the noradrenergic system in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia and how these changes contribute to cognitive decline in these pathologies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology