Effects of muscarinic antagonists on ZENK expression in the chicken retina

Exp Eye Res. 2006 Mar;82(3):379-88. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2005.07.010. Epub 2005 Sep 6.


Muscarinic antagonists, particularly atropine, can inhibit myopia development in several animal models and also in children. However, the biochemical basis of the inhibition of axial eye growth remains obscure, and there are doubts whether muscarinic receptors are involved at all. Experiments in chickens and monkeys have shown that the synthesis of the transcription factor ZENK, also named Egr-1, in retinal glucagon amacrine cells is strongly associated with inhibition of axial eye growth (assumed to create a STOP signal). We have tested whether the muscarinic antagonists atropine, pirenzepine, oxyphenonium, gallamine, MT-3, himbacine, and 4-DAMP can stimulate ZENK expression so that the drugs' inhibitory effect on myopia development could be explained by an enhanced STOP signal. Because it is known that intravitreal quisqualic acid (QA) eliminates most cholinergic neurons in the retina within 6 or 7 days, in a second set of experiments, we tested whether these antagonists could still stimulate ZENK production, 6 days after QA was applied. Muscarinic antagonists, injected intravitreally at various concentrations, affected ZENK synthesis in various and unpredictable ways. Pirenzepine, oxyphenonium, and MT-3 increased the proportion of glucagon cells that were ZENK-immunoreactive, whereas himbacine decreased that proportion, and gallamine and 4-DAMP had no significant effect. Atropine caused an upregulation of ZENK only if all positive amacrine and bipolar cells were counted and therefore appeared to affect primarily cells other than glucagon amacrines. The pattern of results remained unchanged after ablation of most cholinergic neurons by QA. Our results suggest that at least some muscarinic antagonists do not activate cells that synthesize ZENK when they inhibit axial eye growth. Therefore, in line with other studies they also cast doubt on the assumption that muscarinic transmission is crucial, and they suggest that muscarinic antagonists may inhibit myopia through extraretinal target sites or through non-cholinergic retinal actions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Atropine / pharmacology
  • Cell Count
  • Chickens
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Furans / pharmacology
  • Gallamine Triethiodide / pharmacology
  • Glucagon / analysis
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Myopia / metabolism
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacology
  • Peptides / pharmacology
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Quisqualic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Retina / drug effects
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / drug effects


  • Alkaloids
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • Furans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Naphthalenes
  • Peptides
  • Piperidines
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • muscarinic toxin 3
  • Atropine
  • Quisqualic Acid
  • Glucagon
  • himbacine
  • Gallamine Triethiodide