Activation of brain histaminergic neurotransmission: a mechanism for cognitive effects of memantine in Alzheimer's disease.
Neuropathological studies have reported a strong neurofibrillary degeneration of the tuberomamillary nucleus, the region of origin of histamine neurons, in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Histaminergic neurons enhance cognition and memory, suggesting that their degeneration may contribute to the cognitive decline of AD. Besides neurons, the brain histaminergic system comprises mast cells and microglia that can also produce histamine. The level of activity of this histaminergic system in AD remained unknown. In the present study, we have measured the levels of the main histamine metabolite in brain, tele-methylhistamine (t-MeHA), an index of histaminergic system activity, in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of 97 non-AD (controls) and 91 AD patients, males or females. t-MeHA levels in CSF of controls tended to be higher, although non-significantly, in females than in males. t-MeHA levels of controls and AD significantly increased with age (1.66 ± 0.13, 2.04 ± 0.12, and 2.76 ± 0.12 pmol/ml at 40, 60 and 80 years, respectively). In spite of the strong degeneration of histamine neurons in the disease, t-MeHA levels in CSF were only slightly decreased in AD compared to controls (2.14 ± 0.10 vs 2.76 ± 0.13 pmol/ml, -22%, p < 0.01). This decrease was similar whatever the age, and was slightly higher in females than in males. The increase observed with age, and the limited magnitude of the decrease in AD even at late stages may result from the compensatory activation of spared neurons, as well as the neuroinflammation-induced activation of microglia occurring in senescence and AD.