Identification of major classes of cholinergic neurons in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans

J Comp Neurol. 2008 Jan 20;506(3):398-408. doi: 10.1002/cne.21551.


The neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) is specifically synthesized by the enzyme choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). Subsequently, it is loaded into synaptic vesicles by a specific vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT). We have generated antibodies that recognize ChAT or VAChT in a model organism, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, in order to examine the subcellular and cellular distributions of these cholinergic proteins. ChAT and VAChT are found in the same neurons, including more than one-third of the 302 total neurons present in the adult hermaphrodite. VAChT is found in synaptic regions, whereas ChAT appears to exist in two forms in neurons, a synapse-enriched form and a more evenly distributed possibly cytosolic form. We have used antibodies to identify the cholinergic neurons in the body of larval and adult hermaphrodites. All of the classes of putative excitatory motor neurons in the ventral nerve cord appear to be cholinergic: the DA and DB neurons in the first larval stage and the AS, DA, DB, VA, VB, and VC neurons in the adult. In addition, several interneurons with somas in the tail and processes in the tail or body are cholinergic; sensory neurons are generally not cholinergic. Description of the normal pattern of cholinergic proteins and neurons will improve our understanding of the role of cholinergic neurons in the behavior and development of this model organism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Antibodies / chemistry
  • Antibodies / isolation & purification
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nematoda / metabolism
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / cytology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Subcellular Fractions / enzymology
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Antibodies
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase