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Brain Res. 2008 Dec 30;1246:19-28. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.09.085. Epub 2008 Oct 14.

Differential modulation of nerve growth factor receptor (p75) and cholinergic gene expression in purified p75-expressing and non-expressing basal forebrain neurons by BMP9.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.


The synthesis of acetylcholine and its release from basal forebrain cholinergic neurons (BFCN) that innervate the cerebral cortex and hippocampus are considered essential processes for normal learning, memory and attention. We have developed a purification and cell culture method of BFCN in order to examine the regulation of their cholinergic phenotype. Cells isolated from the septal region of late embryonic mice were purified by fluorescence-activated cell sorting based on their expression of the nerve growth factor receptor (p75), a surface marker for mature BFCN. Consistent with previous reports, p75-positive (p75+) cells were enriched in choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and the high-affinity choline transporter (ChT), as measured by reverse transcriptase PCR. In culture, these cells maintained their gene expression of p75, ChAT and ChT, while p75-negative (p75-) cells had a low expression of these genes. Incubation of the cells with BMP9 not only increased p75 and ChAT gene expression in p75- cells, but also augmented the expression of these genes in p75+ cells. Conversely, BMP9 decreased ChT gene expression in p75+ cells and had no such effect in p75- cells. Immunostaining confirmed that p75 protein expression was modulated by BMP9 in a similar way as p75 mRNA, and also revealed that only a subset of p75- cells respond to BMP9 in this manner. These data suggest that mature BFCN in culture may express their cholinergic phenotype in the absence of exogenous trophic input, but that BMP9 can further modulate this phenotype. Moreover, BMP9 induces the cholinergic phenotype in a set of basal forebrain non-cholinergic neurons or precursor cells.

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