Jpn. J. Pharmacol. 85 (1), 2-10 (2001)

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The Non-neuronal Cholinergic System:
The Biological Role of Non-neuronal Acetylcholine in Plants and Humans

Ignaz Wessler1,*, Heinz Kilbinger1, Fernando Bittinger2 and Charles James Kirkpatrick2

Departments of 1Pharmacology and 2Pathology, University of Mainz, Obere Zahlbacher Str. 67, D-55101 Mainz, Germany
*Corresponding author. FAX: +49-6131-393-6611

Abstract: Acetylcholine, one of the most exemplary neurotransmitters, has been detected in bacteria, algae, protozoa, tubellariae and primitive plants, suggesting an extremely early appearance in the evolutionary process and a wide expression in non-neuronal cells. In plants (Urtica dioica), acetylcholine is involved in the regulation of water resorption and photosynthesis. In humans, acetylcholine and/or the synthesizing enzyme, choline acetyltransferase, have been demonstrated in epithelial (airways, alimentary tract, urogenital tract, epidermis), mesothelial (pleura, pericardium), endothelial, muscle and immune cells (granulocytes, lymphocytes, macrophages, mast cells). The widespread expression of non-neuronal acetylcholine is accompanied by the ubiquitous expression of cholinesterase and acetylcholine sensitive receptors (nicotinic, muscarinic). Both receptor populations interact with more or less all cellular signalling pathways. Thus, non-neuronal acetylcholine can be involved in the regulation of basic cell functions like gene expression, proliferation, differentiation, cytoskeletal organization, cell-cell contact (tight and gap junctions, desmosomes), locomotion, migration, ciliary activity, electrical activity, secretion and absorption. Non-neuronal acetylcholine also plays a role in the control of unspecific and specific immune functions. Future experiments should be designed to analyze the cellular effects of acetylcholine in greater detail and to illuminate the involvement of the non-neuronal cholinergic system in the pathogenesis of diseases such as acute and chronic inflammation, local and systemic infection, dementia, atherosclerosis, and finally cancer.

Keywords: Non-neuronal cholinergic system, Cytomolecule acetylcholine, Plant, Human, Basic cell function

Copyright The Japanese Pharmacological Society

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