The purpose of this study was to examine the pharmacologic plasticity of cholinergic, non-adrenergic non-cholinergic (NANC), and purinergic contractions in neurogenic bladder strips from spinal cord injured (SCI) rats. Bladder strips were harvested from female rats three to four weeks after T(9)-T(10) spinal cord transection. The strips were electrically stimulated using two experimental protocols to compare the contribution of muscarinic and NANC/purinergic contractions in the presence and the absence of carbachol or muscarine. The endpoints of the study were: (1) percent NANC contraction that was unmasked by the muscarinic antagonist 4-DAMP, and (2) P2X purinergic contraction that was evoked by α,β-methylene ATP. NANC contraction accounted for 78.5% of the neurally evoked contraction in SCI bladders. When SCI bladder strips were treated with carbachol (10 μM) prior to 4-DAMP (500 nM), the percent NANC contraction decreased dramatically to only 13.1% of the neurally evoked contraction (P=0.041). This was accompanied by a substantial decrease in α,β-methylene ATP evoked P2X contraction, and desensitization of purinergic receptors (the ratio of subsequent over initial P2X contraction decreased from 97.2% to 42.1%, P=0.0017). Sequential activation of the cholinergic receptors with carbachol (or with muscarine in neurally intact bladders) and unmasking of the NANC response with 4-DAMP switched the neurally evoked bladder contraction from predominantly NANC to predominantly cholinergic. We conclude that activation of muscarinic receptors (with carbachol or muscarine) blocks NANC and purinergic contractions in neurally intact or in SCI rat bladders. The carbachol-induced inhibition of the NANC contraction is expressed more in SCI bladders compared to neurally intact bladders. Along with receptor plasticity, this change in bladder function may involve P2X-independent mechanisms.
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