Acetylcholine and spinal locomotor networks: The insider

Physiol Rep. 2021 Feb;9(3):e14736. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14736.


This article aims to review studies that have investigated the role of neurons that use the transmitter acetylcholine (ACh) in controlling the operation of locomotor neural networks within the spinal cord. This cholinergic system has the particularity of being completely intraspinal. We describe the different effects exerted by spinal cholinergic neurons on locomotor circuitry by the pharmacological activation or blockade of this propriospinal system, as well as describing its different cellular and subcellular targets. Through the activation of one ionotropic receptor, the nicotinic receptor, and five metabotropic receptors, the M1 to M5 muscarinic receptors, the cholinergic system exerts a powerful control both on synaptic transmission and locomotor network neuron excitability. Although tremendous advances have been made in our understanding of the spinal cholinergic system's involvement in the physiology and pathophysiology of locomotor networks, gaps still remain, including the precise role of the different subtypes of cholinergic neurons as well as their pre- and postsynaptic partners. Improving our knowledge of the propriospinal cholinergic system is of major relevance to finding new cellular targets and therapeutics in countering the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative diseases and restoring motor functions after spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cholinergic Fibers / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / metabolism
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy
  • Spinal Nerves / metabolism*
  • Spinal Nerves / physiopathology
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Acetylcholine