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Matthew A. Howard III, Alan Gross, M. Sean Grady, Robert S. Langer, Edith Mathiowitz, H. Richard Winn, and Marc R. Mayberg

✓ Pharmacological treatments directed at increasing cortical acetylcholine activity in patients with Alzheimer's disease have largely been disappointing, perhaps because denervated areas of brain may not be exposed to adequate amounts of drug. A new method has been developed to enable localized intracerebral delivery of neurotransmitter substances using a polymeric drug delivery system. Microspheres of a polyanhydride sebacic acid copolymer were impregnated with bethanechol, an acetylcholinesterase-resistant cholinomimetic. Twenty rats received bilateral fimbria-fornix lesions, producing cholinergic denervation of the hippocampus and marked impairment in spatial memory. The animals were trained for 2 weeks to run an eight-arm radial maze, after which they received bilateral intrahippocampal implants of saline (five rats), blank polymer (five rats), or bethanechol-impregnated polymer (10 rats). Following implantation, spatial memory was assessed by radial-maze performance testing for 40 days. Untreated lesioned rats showed persistently poor spatial memory, entering maze arms with near random frequency. Similarly, animals treated with saline and blank polymer did not improve after implantation. Rats treated with bethanechol-impregnated microspheres, however, displayed significant improvement within 10 days after implantation; this improvement persisted for the duration of the experiment (p < 0.05, Student's t-test). Histological analysis of regional acetylcholinesterase staining showed widespread loss of activity throughout the hippocampus bilaterally in all animals. The microsphere implants were visible within the hippocampus, with minimal reactive changes in surrounding brain. It is concluded that intracerebral polymeric drug delivery successfully reversed lesion-induced memory deficits, and has potential as a neurosurgical treatment method for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.