Alterations in gait and balance are manifest in numerous neurological disorders such as the ataxias and Parkinson's disease, and may occur as a consequence of stroke, traumatic brain injury and chemical insults to the brain. Although the underlying etiology of these disorders differs, disturbances in gait and balance appear to reflect deficits in cholinergic pathways within the brain. During the past 40 years, both clinical case studies and preclinical data have provided evidence that nicotinic cholinergic activation is beneficial for alleviating gait and balance deficits in many disorders. Further, studies indicate that activation of neuronal nicotinic receptors leads to neuroprotective and neurotrophic actions. And yet, despite these findings, there hsas been no concerted effort to develop neuronal nicotinic agonists for the treatment of abnormal gait and balance. The goal of this review is to shed light on the therapeutic benefit of the cholinergic nicotinic system for the treatment of ataxia, and discuss the challenges and limitations associated with developing drugs to treat disorders involving deficits in gait and balance.
Keywords: Ataxias, neuronal nicotinic receptor, varenicline, nicotine, gait, balance.