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Front Physiol. 2015 Mar 24;6:87. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2015.00087. eCollection 2015.

Chemical coding and chemosensory properties of cholinergic brush cells in the mouse gastrointestinal and biliary tract.

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Department of Molecular Neuroscience, Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Philipps-University Marburg, Germany.
Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany.
Institute of Veterinary Physiology and Biochemistry, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany.
Synaptic Signaling and Neurodegeneration, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) Bonn, Germany ; German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) Heidelberg, Germany.
Walther-Straub-Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany.
Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany ; Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg, Germany.


The mouse gastro-intestinal and biliary tract mucosal epithelia harbor choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-positive brush cells with taste cell-like traits. With the aid of two transgenic mouse lines that express green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under the control of the ChAT promoter (EGFP (ChAT) ) and by using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry we found that EGFP (ChAT) cells were clustered in the epithelium lining the gastric groove. EGFP (ChAT) cells were numerous in the gall bladder and bile duct, and found scattered as solitary cells along the small and large intestine. While all EGFP (ChAT) cells were also ChAT-positive, expression of the high-affinity choline transporter (ChT1) was never detected. Except for the proximal colon, EGFP (ChAT) cells also lacked detectable expression of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT). EGFP (ChAT) cells were found to be separate from enteroendocrine cells, however they were all immunoreactive for cytokeratin 18 (CK18), transient receptor potential melastatin-like subtype 5 channel (TRPM5), and for cyclooxygenases 1 (COX1) and 2 (COX2). The ex vivo stimulation of colonic EGFP (ChAT) cells with the bitter substance denatonium resulted in a strong increase in intracellular calcium, while in other epithelial cells such an increase was significantly weaker and also timely delayed. Subsequent stimulation with cycloheximide was ineffective in both cell populations. Given their chemical coding and chemosensory properties, EGFP (ChAT) brush cells thus may have integrative functions and participate in induction of protective reflexes and inflammatory events by utilizing ACh and prostaglandins for paracrine signaling.


ChAT; ChT1; VAChT; bile duct; brush cell; cholinergic; gall bladder; intestine

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