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FIGURE 1–6. The cholinergic system.This figure depicts the cholinergic pathways in the brain (A) and various regulatory processes involved in cholinergic neurotransmission (B). Choline crosses the blood–brain barrier to enter the brain and is actively transported into cholinergic presynaptic terminals by an active uptake mechanism (requiring ATP). This neurotransmitter is produced by a single enzymatic reaction in which acetyl coenzyme A (AcCoA) donates its acetyl group to choline by means of the enzyme choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). AcCoA is primarily synthesized in the mitochondria of neurons. Upon its formation, acetylcholine (ACh) is sequestered into secretory vesicles by vesicle ACh transporters (VATs), where it is stored. Vesamicol effectively blocks the transport of ACh into vesicles. An agent such as -bungarotoxin or AF64A is capable of increasing synaptic concentration of ACh by acting as a releaser and a noncompetitive reuptake inhibitor, respectively. In turn, agents such as botulinum toxin are able to attenuate ACh release from nerve terminals. Once released from the presynaptic terminals, ACh can interact with a variety of presynaptic and postsynaptic receptors. In contrast to many other monoaminergic neurotransmitters, the ACh signal is terminated primarily by degradation by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) rather than by reuptake. Interestingly, AChE is present on both presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes and can be inhibited by physostigmine (reversible) and soman (irreversible). Currently, AChE inhibitors such as donepezil and galantamine are the only classes of agents that are FDA approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. ACh receptors are of two types: muscarinic (G protein–coupled) and nicotinic (ionotropic). Presynaptic regulation of ACh neuron firing activity and release occurs through somatodendritic (not shown) and nerve terminal M2 autoreceptors, respectively. The binding of ACh to G protein–coupled muscarinic receptors that are negatively coupled to adenylyl cyclase (AC) or coupled to phosphoinositol hydrolysis produces a cascade of second-messenger and cellular effects (see diagram). ACh also activates ionotropic nicotinic receptors (nAChRs). ACh has it action terminated in the synapse through rapid degradation by AChE, which liberates free choline to be taken back into the presynaptic neuron through choline transporters (CTs). Once inside the neuron, it can be reused for the synthesis of ACh, can be repackaged into vesicles for reuse, or undergoes enzymatic degradation. There are some relatively new agents that selectively antagonize the muscarinic receptors, such as CI-1017 for M1, methoctramine for M2, 4-DAMP for M3, PD-102807 for M4, and scopolamine (hardly a new agent) for M5 (although it also has affinity for M3 receptor). nAChR or nicotine receptors are activated by nicotine and the specific alpha(4)beta(2*) agonist metanicotine. Mecamylamine is an AChR antagonist. DAG = diacylglycerol; IP3 = inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate.Source. Adapted from Cooper JR, Bloom FE, Roth RH: The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology, 7th Edition. New York, Oxford University Press, 2001. Copyright 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc. Modified from Nestler et al. 2001.

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