Brain-Derived Acetylcholine Maintains Peak Bone Mass in Adult Female Mice

J Bone Miner Res. 2020 Aug;35(8):1562-1571. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.4024. Epub 2020 Apr 29.


Preclinical and clinical data support a role of the sympathetic nervous system in the regulation of bone remodeling, but the contribution of parasympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system to bone homeostasis remains less studied. In this study, we sought to determine whether acetylcholine (ACh) contributes to the regulation of bone remodeling after peak bone mass acquisition. We show that reduced central ACh synthesis in mice heterozygous for the choline transporter (ChT) leads to a decrease in bone mass in young female mice, thus independently confirming the previously reported beneficial effect of ACh signaling on bone mass accrual. Increasing brain ACh levels through the use of the blood brain barrier (BBB)-permeable acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChEI) galantamine increased trabecular bone mass in adult female mice, whereas a peripheral increase in ACh levels induced by the BBB-impermeable AChEI pyridostigmine caused trabecular bone loss. AChEIs did not alter skeletal norepinephrine level, and induced an overall increase in osteoblast and osteoclast densities, two findings that do not support a reduction in sympathetic outflow as the mechanism involved in the pro-anabolic effect of galantamine on the skeleton. In addition, we did not detect changes in the commitment of skeletal progenitor cells to the osteoblast lineage in vivo in AChEI-treated mice, nor a direct impact of these drugs in vitro on the survival and differentiation of osteoblast and osteoclast progenitors. Last, ChT heterozygosity and galantamine treatment triggered bone changes in female mice only, thus revealing the existence of a gender-specific skeletal response to brain ACh level. In conclusion, this study supports the stimulatory effect of central ACh on bone mass accrual, shows that it also promotes peak bone mass maintenance in adult mice, and suggests that central ACh regulates bone mass via different mechanisms in growing versus sexually mature mice. © 2020 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.


Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine*
  • Animals
  • Bone Density
  • Brain*
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Osteoblasts
  • Osteoclasts


  • Acetylcholine