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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Jun 1; 90(11): 5194–5198.

Association of m1 and m2 muscarinic receptor proteins with asymmetric synapses in the primate cerebral cortex: morphological evidence for cholinergic modulation of excitatory neurotransmission.


Muscarinic m1 receptors traditionally are considered to be postsynaptic to cholinergic fibers, while m2 receptors are largely presynaptic receptors associated with axons. We have examined the distribution of these receptor proteins in the monkey cerebral cortex and obtained results that are at odds with this expectation. Using immunohistochemistry with specific antibodies to recombinant m1 and m2 muscarinic receptor proteins, we have demonstrated that both m1 and m2 receptors are prominently associated with noncholinergic asymmetric synapses as well as with the symmetric synapses that characterize the cholinergic pathways in the neocortex. At asymmetric synapses, both m1 and m2 receptor immunoreactivity is observed postsynaptically within spines and dendrites; the m2 receptor is also found in presynaptic axon terminals which, in the visual cortex, resemble the parvicellular geniculocortical pathway. In addition, m2 labeling was also found in a subset of nonpyramidal neurons. These findings establish that the m2 receptor is located postsynaptically as well as presynaptically. The association of m1 and m2 receptors with asymmetric synapses in central pathways, which use excitatory amino acids as neurotransmitters, provides a morphological basis for cholinergic modulation of excitatory neurotransmission.

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