Acetylcholine transport, storage, and release

Int Rev Neurobiol. 1993:35:279-390. doi: 10.1016/s0074-7742(08)60572-3.


ACh is released from cholinergic nerve terminals under both resting and stimulated conditions. Stimulated release is mediated by exocytosis of synaptic vesicle contents. The structure and function of cholinergic vesicles are becoming known. The concentration of ACh in vesicles is about 100-fold greater than the concentration in the cytoplasm. The AChT exhibits the lowest binding specificity among known ACh-binding proteins. It is driven by efflux of protons pumped into the vesicle by the V-type ATPase. A potent pharmacology of the AChT based on the allosteric VR has been developed. It has promise for clinical applications that include in vivo evaluation of the density of cholinergic innervation in organs based on PET and SPECT. The microscopic kinetics model that has been developed and the very low transport specificity of the vesicular AChT-VR suggest that the transporter has a channel-like or multidrug resistance protein-like structure. The AChT-VR has been shown to be tightly associated with proteoglycan, which is an unexpected macromolecular relationship. Vesamicol and its analogs block evoked release of ACh from cholinergic nerve terminals after a lag period that depends on the rate of release. Recycling quanta of ACh that are sensitive to vesamicol have been identified electrophysiologically, and they constitute a functional correlate of the biochemically identified VP2 synaptic vesicles. The concept of transmitter mobilization, including the observation that the most recently synthesized ACh is the first to be released, has been greatly clarified because of the availability of vesamicol. Differences among different cholinergic nerve terminal types in the sensitivity to vesamicol, the relative amounts of readily and less releasable ACh, and other aspects of the intracellular metabolism of ACh probably are more apparent than real. They easily could arise from differences in the relative rates of competing or sequential steps in the complicated intraterminal metabolism of ACh rather than from fundamental differences among the terminals. Nonquantal release of ACh from motor nerve terminals arises at least in part from the movement of cytoplasmic ACh through the AChT located in the cytoplasmic membrane, and it is blocked by vesamicol. Possibly, the proteoglycan component of the AChT-VR produces long-term residence of the macromolecular complex in the cytoplasmic membrane through interaction with the synaptic matrix. The preponderance of evidence suggests that a significant fraction of what previously, heretofore, had been considered to be nonquantal release from the motor neuron actually is quantal release from the neuron at sites not detected electrophysiologically.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Humans


  • Acetylcholine