Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 689 - 697 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Acetylcholine synthesis and neuron differentiation.

S Biagioni, A M Tata, A De Jaco and G Augusti-Tocco

Dipartimento di Biologia Cellulare e dello Sviluppo, Università La Sapienza, Roma, Italia.

ABSTRACT Development of the nervous system is dependent on the co-operation between cell determination events and the action of epigenetic factors; in addition to well known factors, e.g. growth factors, neurotransmitters have been assigned a role as "morphogens" and modulators of neuronal differentiation in an early developmental phase. The possible role of acetylcholine as a modulator of neuronal differentiation has been considered in two experimental systems. A neuroblastoma cell line, which does not synthesise any neurotransmitter, has been transfected with a choline acetyltransferase construct; activation of acetylcholine synthesis, thus achieved, is followed by a higher expression of neuronal specific traits. The presence in these cells of muscarinic receptors is consistent with the existence of an autocrine loop, which may be responsible for the more advanced differentiation state observed in the transfected cells. Expression of cholinergic markers appears as a common feature of DRG sensory neurons, independently of the neurotransmitter used. Choline acetyltransferase can be detected in DRG at early developmental stages. The distribution of muscarinic receptors in DRG has suggested that activation of acetylcholine synthesis may be related in an early developmental phase to the interaction between neurons and nonneuronal cells and to modulation of cell differentiation. Both systems suggest that acetylcholine may have a role as a modulator of neuronal differentiation.