Elimination of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter in the forebrain causes hyperactivity and deficits in spatial memory and long-term potentiation.
ABSTRACT: Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, which innervate the hippocampus and cortex, have been implicated in many forms of cognitive function. Immunolesion-based methods in animal models have been widely used to study the role of acetylcholine (ACh) neurotransmission in these processes, with variable results. Cholinergic neurons have been shown to release both glutamate and ACh, making it difficult to deduce the specific contribution of each neurotransmitter on cognition when neurons are eliminated. Understanding the precise roles of ACh in learning and memory is critical because drugs that preserve ACh are used as treatment for cognitive deficits. It is therefore important to define which cholinergic-dependent behaviors could be improved pharmacologically. Here we investigate the contributions of forebrain ACh on hippocampal synaptic plasticity and cognitive behavior by selective elimination of the vesicular ACh transporter, which interferes with synaptic storage and release of ACh. We show that elimination of vesicular ACh transporter in the hippocampus results in deficits in long-term potentiation and causes selective deficits in spatial memory. Moreover, decreased cholinergic tone in the forebrain is linked to hyperactivity, without changes in anxiety or depression-related behavior. These data uncover the specific contribution of forebrain cholinergic tone for synaptic plasticity and behavior. Moreover, these experiments define specific cognitive functions that could be targeted by cholinergic replacement therapy.
Project description:Classical neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine (ACh) require transport into synaptic vesicles for regulated exocytotic release. The Caenorhabditis elegans gene unc-17 encodes a protein with homology to mammalian transporters that concentrate monoamine neurotransmitters into synaptic vesicles. Mutations in unc-17 protect against organophosphorus toxicity, indicating a role in cholinergic neurotransmission. Using the relationship of unc-17 to the vesicular amine transporters, we first isolated a related sequence from the electric ray Torpedo californica [Torpedo vesicular ACh transporter (TorVAChT)] that is expressed by the electric lobe but not by peripheral tissues. Using the relationship of the Torpedo sequence to unc-17, we then isolated the cDNA for a rat homologue (rVAChT). Northern blot analysis shows expression of these sequences in the basal forebrain, basal ganglia, and spinal cord but not cerebellum or peripheral tissues. In situ hybridization shows expression of rVAChT mRNA in all cholinergic cell groups, including those in the basal forebrain, brainstem, and spinal cord that previously have been shown to express choline acetyltransferase mRNA. The human VAChT gene also localizes to chromosome 10 near the gene for choline acetyltransferase. Taken together, these observations support a role for rVAChT in vesicular ACh transport and indicate its potential as a novel marker for cholinergic neurons.
Project description:Substantial evidence suggests that cerebral deposition of the neurotoxic fibrillar form of amyloid precursor protein, ?-amyloid (A?), plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Yet, many aspects of AD pathology including the cognitive symptoms and selective vulnerability of cortically projecting basal forebrain (BF) cholinergic neurons are not well explained by this hypothesis. Specifically, it is not clear why cognitive decline appears early when the loss of BF cholinergic neurons and plaque deposition are manifested late in AD. Soluble oligomeric forms of A? are proposed to appear early in the pathology and to be better predictors of synaptic loss and cognitive deficits. The present study was designed to examine the impact of A? oligomers on attentional functions and presynaptic cholinergic transmission in young and aged rats. Chronic intracranial infusions of A? oligomers produced subtle decrements in the ability of rats to sustain attentional performance with time on task, irrespective of the age of the animals. However, A? oligomers produced robust detrimental effects on performance under conditions of enhanced attentional load in aged animals. In vivo electrochemical recordings show reduced depolarization-evoked cholinergic signals in A?-infused aged rats. Moreover, soluble A? disrupted the capacity of cholinergic synapses to clear exogenous choline from the extracellular space in both young and aged rats, reflecting impairments in the choline transport process that is critical for acetylcholine (ACh) synthesis and release. Although aging per se reduced the cross-sectional area of BF cholinergic neurons and presynaptic cholinergic proteins in the cortex, attentional performance and ACh release remained unaffected in aged rats infused with the control peptide. Taken together, these data suggest that soluble A? may marginally influence attentional functions at young ages primarily by interfering with the choline uptake processes. However, age-related weakening of the cholinergic system may synergistically interact with these disruptive presynaptic mechanisms to make this neurotransmitter system vulnerable to the toxic effects of oligomeric A? in robustly impeding attentional capacities.
Project description:Cholinergic neurons originating from the basal forebrain innervate the entire cortical mantle. Choline-sensitive microelectrodes were used to measure the synaptic release of cortical acetylcholine (ACh) at a subsecond resolution in rats performing a task involving the detection of cues. Cues that were detected, defined behaviorally, evoked transient increases in cholinergic activity (at the scale of seconds) in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), but not in a nonassociational control region (motor cortex). In trials involving missed cues, cholinergic transients were not observed. Cholinergic deafferentation of the mPFC, but not motor cortex, impaired cue detection. Furthermore, decreases and increases in precue cholinergic activity predicted subsequent cue detection or misses, respectively. Finally, cue-evoked cholinergic transients were superimposed over slower (at the timescale of minutes) changes in cholinergic activity. Cortical cholinergic neurotransmission is regulated on multiple timescales to mediate the detection of behaviorally significant cues and to support cognitive performance.
Project description:Cholinergic innervation is extensive throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. Among its many roles, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) contributes to the regulation of motor function, locomotion, and exploration. Cholinergic deficits and replacement strategies have been investigated in neurodegenerative disorders, particularly in cases of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Focus has been on blocking acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and enhancing ACh synthesis to improve cholinergic neurotransmission. As a first step in evaluating the physiological effects of enhanced cholinergic function through the upregulation of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), we used the hypercholinergic B6eGFPChAT congenic mouse model that has been shown to contain multiple VAChT gene copies. Analysis of biochemical and behavioral paradigms suggest that modest increases in VAChT expression can have a significant effect on spontaneous locomotion, reaction to novel stimuli, and the adaptation to novel environments. These observations support the potential of VAChT as a therapeutic target to enhance cholinergic tone, thereby decreasing spontaneous hyperactivity and increasing exploration in novel environments.
Project description:Neocortical choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-expressing interneurons are a subclass of vasoactive intestinal peptide (ChAT-VIP) neurons of which circuit and behavioural function are unknown. Here, we show that ChAT-VIP neurons directly excite neighbouring neurons in several layers through fast synaptic transmission of acetylcholine (ACh) in rodent medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Both interneurons in layers (L)1-3 as well as pyramidal neurons in L2/3 and L6 receive direct inputs from ChAT-VIP neurons mediated by fast cholinergic transmission. A fraction (10-20%) of postsynaptic neurons that received cholinergic input from ChAT-VIP interneurons also received GABAergic input from these neurons. In contrast to regular VIP interneurons, ChAT-VIP neurons did not disinhibit pyramidal neurons. Finally, we show that activity of these neurons is relevant for behaviour and they control attention behaviour distinctly from basal forebrain ACh inputs. Thus, ChAT-VIP neurons are a local source of cortical ACh that directly excite neurons throughout cortical layers and contribute to attention.
Project description:The septohippocampal system has been implicated in the cognitive deficits associated with ethanol consumption, but the cellular basis of ethanol action awaits full elucidation. In the medial septum/diagonal band of Broca (MS/DB), a muscarinic tone, reflective of firing activity of resident cholinergic neurons, regulates that of their noncholinergic, putatively GABAergic, counterparts. Here we tested the hypothesis that ethanol alters this muscarinic tone. The spontaneous firing activity of cholinergic and noncholinergic MS/DB neurons were monitored in acute MS/DB slices from C57Bl/6 mice. Exposing the entire slice to ethanol increased firing in both cholinergic and noncholinergic neurons. However, applying ethanol focally to individual MS/DB neurons increased firing only in cholinergic neurons. The differential outcome suggested different mechanisms of ethanol action on cholinergic and noncholinergic neurons. Indeed, with bath-perfused ethanol, the muscarinic antagonist methyl scopolamine prevented the increase in firing in noncholinergic, but not cholinergic, MS/DB neurons. Thus, the effect on noncholinergic neuronal firing was secondary to ethanol's direct action of acutely increasing muscarinic tone. We propose that the acute ethanol-induced elevation of muscarinic tone in the MS/DB contributes to the altered net flow of neuronal activity in the septohippocampal system that underlies compromised cognitive function.
Project description:Cholinergic neuromodulation plays key roles in the regulation of neuronal excitability, network activity, arousal, and behavior. On longer time scales, cholinergic systems play essential roles in cortical development, maturation, and plasticity. Presumably, these processes are associated with substantial synaptic remodeling, yet to date, long-term relationships between cholinergic tone and synaptic remodeling remain largely unknown. Here we used automated microscopy combined with multielectrode array recordings to study long-term relationships between cholinergic tone, excitatory synapse remodeling, and network activity characteristics in networks of cortical neurons grown on multielectrode array substrates. Experimental elevations of cholinergic tone led to the abrupt suppression of episodic synchronous bursting activity (but not of general activity), followed by a gradual growth of excitatory synapses over hours. Subsequent blockage of cholinergic receptors led to an immediate restoration of synchronous bursting and the gradual reversal of synaptic growth. Neither synaptic growth nor downsizing was governed by multiplicative scaling rules. Instead, these occurred in a subset of synapses, irrespective of initial synaptic size. Synaptic growth seemed to depend on intrinsic network activity, but not on the degree to which bursting was suppressed. Intriguingly, sustained elevations of cholinergic tone were associated with a gradual recovery of synchronous bursting but not with a reversal of synaptic growth. These findings show that cholinergic tone can strongly affect synaptic remodeling and synchronous bursting activity, but do not support a strict coupling between the two. Finally, the reemergence of synchronous bursting in the presence of elevated cholinergic tone indicates that the capacity of cholinergic neuromodulation to indefinitely suppress synchronous bursting might be inherently limited.
Project description:The basal forebrain (BF) plays crucial roles in arousal, attention, and memory, and its impairment is associated with a variety of cognitive deficits. The BF consists of cholinergic, GABAergic, and glutamatergic neurons. Electrical or optogenetic stimulation of BF cholinergic neurons enhances cortical processing and behavioral performance, but the natural activity of these cells during behavior is only beginning to be characterized. Even less is known about GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons. Here, we performed microendoscopic calcium imaging of BF neurons as mice engaged in spontaneous behaviors in their home cages (innate) or performed a go/no-go auditory discrimination task (learned). Cholinergic neurons were consistently excited during movement, including running and licking, but GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons exhibited diverse responses. All cell types were activated by overt punishment, either inside or outside of the discrimination task. These findings reveal functional similarities and distinctions between BF cell types during both spontaneous and task-related behaviors.
Project description:The simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) macaque model resembles human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and associated brain dysfunction. Altered expression of synaptic markers and transmitters in neuro-AIDS has been reported, but limited data exist for the cholinergic system and lipid mediators such as prostaglandins. Here, we analyzed cholinergic basal forebrain neurons with their telencephalic projections and the rate-limiting enzymes for prostaglandin synthesis, cyclooxygenase isotypes 1 and 2 (COX1 and COX2) in the brains of SIV-infected macaques with or without encephalitis and antiretroviral therapy and uninfected controls.Cyclooxygenase isotype 1, but not COX2, was coexpressed with markers of cholinergic phenotype, that is, choline acetyltransferase and vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), in basal forebrain neurons of monkey, as well as human, brain. Cyclooxygenase isotype 1 was decreased in basal forebrain neurons in macaques with AIDS versus uninfected and asymptomatic SIV-infected macaques. The VAChT-positive fiber density was reduced in frontal, parietal, and hippocampal-entorhinal cortex. Although brain SIV burden and associated COX1- and COX2-positive mononuclear and endothelial inflammatory reactions were mostly reversed in AIDS-diseased macaques that received 6-chloro-2',3'-dideoxyguanosine treatment, decreased VAChT-positive terminal density and reduced cholinergic COX1 expression were not. Thus, COX1 expression is a feature of primate cholinergic basal forebrain neurons; it may be functionally important and a critical biomarker of cholinergic dysregulation accompanying lentiviral encephalopathy. These results further imply that insufficiently prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy in lentiviral infection may lead to neurostructurally unremarkable but neurochemically prominent irreversible brain damage.
Project description:The cellular mechanisms underlying the exceptional vulnerability of the basal forebrain (BF) cholinergic neurons during pathological aging have remained elusive. Here we employed an adeno-associated viral vector-based RNA interference (AAV-RNAi) strategy to suppress the expression of tropomyosin-related kinase A (trkA) receptors by cholinergic neurons in the nucleus basalis of Meynert/substantia innominata (nMB/SI) of adult and aged rats. Suppression of trkA receptor expression impaired attentional performance selectively in aged rats. Performance correlated with trkA levels in the nMB/SI. trkA knockdown neither affected nMB/SI cholinergic cell counts nor the decrease in cholinergic cell size observed in aged rats. However, trkA suppression augmented an age-related decrease in the density of cortical cholinergic processes and attenuated the capacity of cholinergic neurons to release acetylcholine (ACh). The capacity of cortical synapses to release ACh in vivo was also lower in aged/trkA-AAV-infused rats than in aged or young controls, and it correlated with their attentional performance. Furthermore, age-related increases in cortical proNGF and p75 receptor levels interacted with the vector-induced loss of trkA receptors to shift NGF signaling toward p75-mediated suppression of the cholinergic phenotype, thereby attenuating cholinergic function and impairing attentional performance. These effects model the abnormal trophic regulation of cholinergic neurons and cognitive impairments in patients with early Alzheimer's disease. This rat model is useful for identifying the mechanisms rendering aging cholinergic neurons vulnerable as well as for studying the neuropathological mechanisms that are triggered by disrupted trophic signaling.