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The hottest research topic in biotechnology is that of smart drugs, which will enhance memory and concentration, either to counter the effects of ageing or to give younger people a competitive advantage. (These drugs are also called cognitive enhancers or nootropics, from the Greek no-os, “mind” and tropos, “a turning”). Though many such drugs already on the market work through a placebo effect, a new class called amperkines show promise of a genuine pharmacological effect. They work by enhancing the action of a neurotransmitter chemical in the brain called AMPA (which is short for alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole- propionic acid) which handles virtually all routine transmissions of electrical impulses across synapses. The word is formed from the abbreviation AMPA, plus the Greek word kinein, “to move”, and is a trademark of the University of California at Irvine, where the initial research was carried out.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 22 Feb 1997; Last updated 07 Sep 2002