Monday, December 19, 2005

Why caffeine works

Coffee's effects revealed in brain scans
Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, according to a new study.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how coffee activates different areas of the brain in 15 volunteers.

“Caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on distinct areas of the brain,” explains Florian Koppelstätter, who carried out the research with colleagues at the Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria.

What areas specifically?
“The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the brain," Koppelstätter explains. "But those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in 'executive memory', attention, concentration, planning and monitoring."

There must be more to the effect of caffeine than that. Most of us know, for instance, that a common symptom of withdrawal from caffeine is headaches. What's with that? Adenosine recoptors?
Caffeine is known to influence adenosine receptors which are found throughout the brain on nerve cells and blood vessels. It is thought that the drug inhibits these receptors and that this excites the nerve cells in the brain. “This may be the mechanism involved,” suggests Koppelstätter.

Another story on this: The tall and the short of why caffeine works
Press release: Coffee Jump-starts Short-term Memory

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