The non-neuronal cholinergic system in health and disease

Pharmacology. 2013;92(5-6):286-302. doi: 10.1159/000355835. Epub 2013 Nov 29.


Acetylcholine (ACh) is not only a neurotransmitter but is an ancient molecule that can be released by and act on non-neuronal cells. In these cells the system of ACh-synthesizing enzymes, transporters, receptors and degrading enzymes is termed the non-neuronal cholinergic system (NNCS). There is increasing evidence that the NNCS is dysregulated in various diseases and can have an influence on their pathology. However, for many organ systems not much is known about the expression and function of the NNCS. Thus, this review focusses on the role of the NNCS in different organ systems in health and disease. Dysregulation of ACh synthesis and release, mutations or polymorphisms in genes encoding NNCS components, and auto-antibodies against NNCS components are common factors influencing disease progression. Pharmacological agents targeting the NNCS are already successfully in clinical use for some disorders, indicating that interfering with this system is very promising and more research is needed to elucidate the role of the NNCS in different tissues and pathological states.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Autoantibodies / metabolism
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Acetylcholine