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Life Sci. 2017 Jan 15;169:6-10. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2016.10.030. Epub 2016 Nov 17.

Distribution of muscarinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes in the murine small intestine.

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Section of Pediatric Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, FMB 131, PO Box 20862, New Haven, CT 06520, United States.
Section of Pediatric Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, FMB 131, PO Box 20862, New Haven, CT 06520, United States. Electronic address:



Serotonin stimulates enterocyte turnover in the small intestine and studies suggest this is mediated by neuronal signaling via a cholinergic pathway. Distribution of the five known muscarinic receptor subtypes (mAChRs) in the small intestine has not been fully studied, and their role in intestinal growth is unknown. We hypothesized that mAChRs have distinct anatomic distributions within the bowel, and that mAChRs present within intestinal crypts mediate the effects of acetylcholine on the small intestinal mucosa.


Small intestine from male C57BL/6 mice ages 2, 4, 6, and 8weeks were harvested. RNA was isolated and cDNA synthesized for PCR-amplification of subtype specific mAChRs. Ileum was fixed with Nakane, embedded in epon, and immunofluorescence microscopy performed using polyclonal antibodies specific to each mAChR1-5.


All five mAChR subtypes were present in the mouse duodenum, jejunum, and ileum at all ages by RT-PCR. Immunofluorescence microscopy suggested the presence of mAChR1-5 in association with mature enterocytes along the villus and within the myenteric plexus. Only mAChR2 clearly localized to the crypt stem cell compartment, specifically co-localizing with Paneth cells at crypt bases.


Muscarinic receptors are widely distributed along the entire alimentary tract. mAChR2 appears to localize to the crypt stem cell compartment, suggesting it is a plausible regulator of stem cell activity. The location of mAChR2 to the crypt makes it a potential therapeutic target for treatment of intestinal disease such as short bowel syndrome. The exact cellular location and action of each mAChR requires further study.


Enteric nervous system; Intestinal crypt; Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor; Paneth cell; Stem cell compartment

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