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J Neurochem. 2007 Mar;100(5):1421-9. Epub 2006 Dec 22.

Excessive hippocampal acetylcholine levels in acetylcholinesterase-deficient mice are moderated by butyrylcholinesterase activity.

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Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, Texas Tech University Health Science Center, Amarillo, Texas 79106, USA.


Central cholinergic systems are involved in a plethora of brain functions and are severely and selectively damaged in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. Cholinergic dysfunction is treated with inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) while the role of butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) for brain cholinergic function is unclear. We have used in vivo microdialysis to investigate the regulation of hippocampal acetylcholine (ACh) levels in mice that are devoid of AChE (AChE-/- mice). Extracellular ACh levels in the hippocampus were 60-fold elevated in AChE-/- mice compared with wild-type (AChE+/+) animals. In AChE-/- mice, calcium-free conditions reduced hippocampal ACh levels by 50%, and infusion of tetrodotoxin by more than 90%, indicating continuous ACh release. Infusion of a selective AChE inhibitor (BW284c51) caused a dose-dependent, up to 16-fold increase of extracellular ACh levels in AChE+/+ mice but did not change ACh levels in AChE-/- mice. In contrast, infusion of a selective inhibitor of BChE (bambuterol) caused up to fivefold elevation of ACh levels in AChE-/- mice, but was without effect in AChE+/+ animals. These results were corroborated with two other specific inhibitors of AChE and BChE, tolserine and bis-norcymserine, respectively. We conclude that lack of AChE causes dramatically increased levels of extracellular ACh in the brain. Importantly, in the absence of AChE, the levels of extracellular ACh in the brain are controlled by the activity of BChE. These results point to a potential usefulness of BChE inhibitors in the treatment of central cholinergic dysfunction in which brain AChE activity is typically reduced.

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