Stimulating new ideas on caffeine action in the brain

2011

Challenge

Caffeine is one of the oldest and most widely consumed cognitive stimulants on earth. Although it has pharmacological effects on many brain areas, its primary physiological site of action has not been established. Understanding how caffeine functions may provide clues to understanding sleep disorders, depression, and a range of conditions involving altered cognitive functioning.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Serena Dudek, Ph.D., discovered that caffeine, at levels similar to that consumed by humans, along with similar, more selective A1 adenosine receptor blockers, strongly enhanced synaptic responses in an area of the brain known as “hippocampal area CA2.” The hippocampus is known for its role in learning and memory.

Impact

By discovering that this small region of the brain is the primary site of caffeine action, these studies highlight the CA2 region as a potential target for drug development to combat symptoms of fatigue due to sleep deprivation and depression, as well as sleep disturbances in neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

Publications

Simons SB, Caruana DA, Zhao M, Dudek SM. (2011). Caffeine-induced synaptic potentiation in hippocampal CA2 neurons. Nat Neurosci. 15(1), 23-5.