University of Maryland scientists have linked a brain compound called kynurenic acid to cognition, potentially opening the door to development of a drug that could aid learning in healthy people -- and in those with disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

"Workers might want to take a pill so they can work harder, and college students would be interested because they already are taking amphetamine-type pills so they will be sharper," said Robert Schwarcz, professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His research has focused on healthy people, but he says, "What happens with diseases would be a major add-on."

There are many other research projects around the country into brain function. They are examining a wide variety of factors -- vitamin supplements, estrogen, herbs, red wine -- as well as ways to bolster blood circulation and chemicals that initiate actions in the brain. Several drugs are already being used to improve cognition in Alzheimer's patients, but they aren't effective for every patient.


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