Non-neuronal acetylcholine, a signalling molecule synthezised by surface cells of rat and man

Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 1997 Apr;355(4):515-23. doi: 10.1007/pl00004977.


Acetylcholine acts as a prominent transmitter in the central and peripheral nervous system. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether mammalian non-neuronal cells can synthesize and store acetylcholine. A cotton tipped applicator (Q-tip) was used to collect surface cells from airways and alimentary tract. Histological inspection indicated that rubbing of the luminal surface of human bronchi did not penetrate the basal membrane. Acetylcholine was measured by an HPLC-method using substrate-specific enzyme reactor-columns. Non-neuronal acetylcholine was found in cells covering inner and outer surfaces of rat and man. For example, acetylcholine was detected in the surface epithelium of human bronchi (33 pmol/g), mouth (female 0.7 and male 8 pmol/sample), small and large intestine (800 and 16 pmol/g, respectively), gall bladder (12 pmol/g), vagina (6 pmol/sample), skin 1000 (pmol/g) and in pulmonary pleura (5 pmol/sample). Somewhat higher amounts of acetylcholine were found in rat tracheal and intestinal epithelium and in rat skin. The synthesizing enzyme choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) was demonstrated in human surface epithelium by immunohistochemistry and by Western blot analysis. Enzymatic ChAT activity was demonstrated in isolated epithelial cells of human bronchi and small intestine (3.5 and 28 nmol/mg protein/h, respectively). Applied acetylcholine (in nM concentrations) increased, whereas inhibition of ChAT activity by bromoacetylcholine (10 microM) reduced the growth of cultured human bronchial epithelial cells. Inhibition of cell growth occurred also in the presence of atropine (1 microM) together with (+/-)-tubocurarine (30 microM). In conclusion, the present experiments demonstrate a widespread existence of non-neuronal acetylcholine in surface cells of man. Non-neuronal acetylcholine may act as a local signalling molecule.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / biosynthesis*
  • Animals
  • Bronchi / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Jejunum / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Acetylcholine