Author(s): Wessler I, Kirkpatrick CJ, Rack K
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Abstract Acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter in the central and peripheral nervous systems in humans. However, recent experiments demonstrate a widespread expression of the cholinergic system in non-neuronal cells in humans. The synthesizing enzyme choline acetyltransferase, the signalling molecule acetylcholine, and the respective receptors (nicotinic or muscarinic) are expressed in epithelial cells (human airways, alimentary tract, epidermis). Acetylcholine is also found in mesothelial, endothelial, glial, and circulating blood cells (platelets, mononuclear cells), as well as in alveolar macrophages. The existence of non-neuronal acetylcholine explains the widespread expression of muscarinic and nicotinic receptors in cells not innervated by cholinergic neurons. Non-neuronal acetylcholine appears to be involved in the regulation of important cell functions, such as mitosis, trophic functions, automaticity, locomotion, ciliary activity, cell-cell contact, cytoskeleton, as well as barrier and immune functions. The most important tasks for the future will be to clarify the multiple biological roles of non-neuronal acetylcholine in detail and to identify pathological conditions in which this system is up- or down-regulated. This could provide the basis for the development of new therapeutic strategies to target the non-neuronal cholinergic system.
This article was published in Pharmacol Ther
and referenced in Journal of Clinical & Experimental Pharmacology