Acetylcholinergic (ACh) neurotransmission is essential for key organismal functions such as locomotion and cognition. However, the mechanism through which ACh is regulated in the central nervous system is not fully understood. The vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) mediates the packaging and transport of ACh for exocytotic release and is a critical component of the ACh release machinery. Yet its precise role in the maintenance of cholinergic tone remains a subject of active investigation. Here we use the overexpression of VAChT as a tool to investigate the role of changes in ACh exocytosis on the regulation of synaptic activity and its downstream consequences. We measured the effect of an increase in VAChT expression on locomotion and cognitive performance as well as on organismal survival across the lifespan. We report the surprising finding that increased VAChT expression results in a significantly shorter lifespan in comparison to control flies. Moreover, constructs overexpressing VAChT demonstrate an age-dependent decrease in locomotion performance. Importantly, we report clear deficits in learning and memory which we measured through a courtship conditioning assay. Together, these data provide evidence for the adverse effects of overexpression of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter in the maintenance of normal behavioral abilities in Drosophila and demonstrates for the first time a role for ACh in the regulation of organismal survival.
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