Effects of aging on cholinergic neuromuscular transmission in isolated small intestine of ad libitum fed and calorically-restricted rats

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012 Jun;24(6):586-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2012.01913.x. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Background: Age-associated losses of enteric neurons have been described. In rat ileum, myenteric neurons lost during aging have been reported to be predominantly cholinergic, and caloric restriction (CR) has been shown to protect against these losses. Cholinergic myenteric neurons include excitatory motor neurons, so the aim of this work was to determine whether neuronal loss in ad libitum (AL)-fed animals is reflected in dysfunctional cholinergic neuromuscular transmission, and if CR reduces any such dysfunction.

Methods: Effects of electrical field stimulation (EFS) and applied acetylcholine (ACh) were examined in the longitudinal muscle of isolated ileal segments from 6-month-old rats and from 13- and 24-month-old rats fed either AL or CR diets.

Key results: Contractile responses to EFS were abolished by atropine and potentiated by the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, eserine. Frequency-response relationships were not significantly different amongst the three age-groups. Sensitivity to applied ACh, however, was three-fold lower in the oldest animals (P < 0.05). Eserine potentiated responses to ACh; there were no statistically significant differences amongst the sensitivities to ACh in its presence. No significant differences between AL- and CR-fed animals were measured, although variability was less in CR-fed than in AL-fed groups.

Conclusions & inferences: The cholinergic system supplying the rat ileum longitudinal muscle did not appear to be impaired in old age. Decreased sensitivity to applied ACh in old tissues may have been due to increased acetylcholinesterase activity. Caloric restriction had no significant effect on responses to EFS or applied ACh. The implications of these results are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Cholinergic Neurons / drug effects
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Intestine, Small / drug effects
  • Intestine, Small / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neuromuscular Junction / drug effects
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Acetylcholine