The striatum plays a central role in motor control and motor learning. Appropriate responses to environmental stimuli, including pursuit of reward or avoidance of aversive experience all require functional striatal circuits. These pathways integrate synaptic inputs from limbic and cortical regions including sensory, motor and motivational information to ultimately connect intention to action. Although many neurotransmitters participate in striatal circuitry, one critically important player is acetylcholine (ACh). Relative to other brain areas, the striatum contains exceptionally high levels of ACh, the enzymes that catalyze its synthesis and breakdown, as well as both nicotinic and muscarinic receptor types that mediate its postsynaptic effects. The principal source of striatal ACh is the cholinergic interneuron (ChI), which comprises only about 1-2% of all striatal cells yet sends dense arbors of projections throughout the striatum. This review summarizes recent advances in our understanding of the factors affecting the excitability of these neurons through acute effects and long term changes in their synaptic inputs. In addition, we discuss the physiological effects of ACh in the striatum, and how changes in ACh levels may contribute to disease states during striatal dysfunction.
Keywords: Parkinson's disease; acetylcholine; cholinergic interneuron; plasticity; striatum.