Task-related fMRI responses to a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist in schizophrenia: A randomized trial

Deanna M. Barch, Stephen R. Marder, Michael P. Harms, L. Fredrik Jarskog, Robert W. Buchanan, Will Cronenwett, Li Shiun Chen, Markus Weiss, Ralph P. Maguire, Nicole Pezous, Dominik Feuerbach, Cristina Lopez-Lopez, Rhett B. Behrje, Baltazar Gomez-Mancilla*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Introduction AQW051, an α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist, enhanced cognitive function in rodent models of learning and memory. This study evaluated brain activation during performance of a working memory task (WMT) and an episodic memory task (EMT), and the effect of AQW051 on task-related brain activation and performance in subjects with schizophrenia. Methods This was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter, 2-period cross-over trial (NCT00825539) in participants with chronic, stable schizophrenia. Participants, stratified according to smoking status, were randomized (1:1:1:1:1:1) to 1 of 6 sequence groups that determined the study drug dose (AQW051 7.5 mg, 50 mg or 100 mg) and order of administration versus placebo. The primary outcome was brain activation in a priori target regions of interest (ROIs) during performance of the WMT and EMT, measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The effect of AQW051 on task-related (EMT and WMT) brain activation and performance was also assessed, as were safety and tolerability. Results Overall, 60 of 68 enrolled participants completed the study (AQW051 then placebo: 7.5 mg n = 9; 50 mg n = 11; 100 mg n = 10. Placebo then AQW051: 7.5 mg n = 10; 50 mg n = 11; 100 mg n = 9). Significant task-related brain activation (5% significance level) was observed with placebo. During the WMT, a medium effect size was observed in the inferior prefrontal cortex with AQW051 100 mg versus placebo (0.431; p = 0.105). During the EMT encoding phase, a large effect size was observed in the anterior hippocampus (0.795; p = 0.007) and a medium effect size in the posterior hippocampus (0.476; p = 0.079) with AQW051 7.5 mg. No other medium/large effect sizes were observed with any dose on either task. Effects on brain activation were generally not associated with changes in cognitive performance. AQW051 was well tolerated with an acceptable safety profile. Conclusions Overall, no consistent effects of AQW051 on brain regions involved in the performance of a WMT or EMT were observed; however, this study presents a model for evaluating potential response to pharmacological interventions for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-75
Number of pages10
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
StatePublished - Nov 3 2016


  • AQW051
  • Clinical trial
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR)
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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