Cholinesterases in development and disease

L. Anglister*, A. Etlin, E. Finkel, A. R. Durrant, A. Lev-Tov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Cholinesterases (ChEs) including acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE) are abundant in the nervous system and other tissues. Here we describe two different aspects of ChEs and the cholinergic system. The first aspect concerns the role of cholinergic transmission in central pattern generation in the neonatal rat spinal cord and the second one describes the involvement of ChEs in the pathologies of dystrophin-deficient mutant (mdx) mice, the animal model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Thus, this study is divided into two distinct parts. In the first part we show that AChE is abundant in ventral horn neurons, central canal-adjacent and partition neurons in all the observed segments (L2, L5, S1, and S2). AChE was also found in the intermediolateral and sacral parasympathetic nuclei of L2 and S1, respectively. Blocking the AChE by edrophonium produced non-stationary bursting in spinal cord preparations of developing rats. Cross-wavelet/coherence analyses of the data revealed epochs of locomotor-like activity (left-right and flexor-extensor alternation) followed by other rhythmic or non-rhythmic bursting patterns. Addition of exogenous ACh stabilized the rhythm and increased the incidence of locomotor-like pattern in the preparations. Thus, the cholinergic system in the spinal cord is capable of producing and modulating functional rhythmic bursts. Moreover, bath-applied edrophonium and exogenous ACh were found as potent means of modulation of the locomotor rhythm produced by stimulation of sacrocaudal afferents (SCAs). We show that a subclass of sacral neurons with contralateral funicular projections to the thoracolumbar cord is associated with the cholinergic system. This group of neurons may play a major role in the observed enhancement of the SCA-induced motor rhythm. In the second part we show that adult mdx-muscles are malformed with distorted neuromuscular junctions (nmjs) and impaired regulation of acetylcholine receptors. Examination of circulating ChE levels revealed that in mdx-sera, while AChE activity was elevated, BuChE activity was markedly lower than in wild-type (wt) sera. Thus, BuChE to AChE ratio in mouse sera decreased from 6:1 in wt control to 3:1 in mdx. Because serum ChE levels may be modulated by gonadal steroids, it is possible that lack of dystrophin in mdx-mice may affect this regulation. Further studies are in progress to determine the potential endocrine regulation of ChEs in circulation and at the nmjs of mdx- and wt-mice. These studies will help clarify whether the hormonal regulation is impaired in the mdx mutant, and whether changes in circulating ChE reflect or influence the functional deficits observed in excitable tissues of diseased states.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)92-100
Number of pages9
JournalChemico-Biological Interactions
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 25 Sep 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article is dedicated to the memory of Dr. M.M. Salpeter (Cornell University) with whom the studies on mdx mutants had initiated. The authors thank D. Blivis, Y. Mor, L. Tamayev, Dr. E. Blotnick, L. Dalkian and A. Sheinfeld for their help in various parts of the study. This research was supported by MDA (LA), and by BSF and ISF (AL).


  • Locomotor rhythm
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • Sensory pathways
  • Spinal interneurons


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