Cholinergic innervation and receptors in the cerebellum

Prog Brain Res. 1997;114:67-96. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6123(08)63359-2.


We have studied the source and ultrastructural characteristics of ChAT-immunoreactive fibers in the cerebellum of the rat, and the distribution of muscarinic and nicotinic receptors in the cerebellum of the rat, rabbit, cat and monkey, in order to define which of the cerebellar afferents may use ACh as a neurotransmitter, what target structures are they, and which cholinergic receptor mediate the actions of these pathways. Our data confirm and extend previous observations that cholinergic markers occur at relatively low density in the cerebellum and show not only interspecies variability, but also heterogeneity between cerebellar lobules in the same species. As previously demonstrated by Barmack et al. (1992a,b), the predominant fiber system in the cerebellum that might use ACh as a transmitter or a co-transmitter is formed by mossy fibers originating in the vestibular nuclei and innervating the nodulus and ventral uvula. Our results show that these fibers innervate both granule cells and unipolar brush cells, and that the presumed cholinergic action of these fibers most likely is mediated by nicotinic receptors. In addition to cholinergic mossy fibers, the rat cerebellum is innervated by beaded ChAT-immunoreactive fibers. We have demonstrated that these fibers originate in the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPTg), the lateral paragigantocellular nucleus (LPGi), and to a lesser extent in various raphe nuclei. In both the cerebellar cortex and the cerebellar nuclei these fibers make asymmetric synaptic junctions with small and medium-sized dendritic profiles. Both muscarinic and nicotinic receptor could mediate the action of these diffuse beaded fibers. In the cerebellar nuclei the beaded cholinergic fibers form a moderately dense network, and could in principle have a significant effect on neuronal activity. For instance, the cholinergic fibers arising in the PPTg may modulate the excitability of the cerebellonuclear neurons in relation to sleep and arousal (e.g. McCormick, 1989). Studies on the distribution of cholinergic markers in the cerebellum have proven valuable besides the issue whether cholinergic mechanism play a role in the cerebellar circuitry, because they illustrate a complexity of the cerebellar anatomy that extends beyond its regular trilaminar and foliar arrangement. For instance, AChE histochemistry has been shown to preferentially stain the borders of white matter compartments (the 'raphes', Voogd, 1967), and therefore is useful in topographical analysis of the cortico-nuclear and olivocerebellar projections (Hess and Voogd, 1986; Tan et al., 1995; Voogd et al., 1996; see Voogd and Ruigrok, 1997, this Volume). ChAT-immunoreactivity, at least in rat, appears to be a good marker to outline the morphological heterogeneity of mossy fibers, and m2-immunocytochemistry could be used to label (subpopulations of) Golgi cells, subsets of mossy fibers and, in the rabbit, a specific subset of Purkinje cells (Jaarsma et al., 1995).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology*
  • Afferent Pathways / cytology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Cerebellum / cytology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / analysis*
  • Haplorhini
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / analysis*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / analysis*
  • Species Specificity


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Acetylcholine