High-affinity choline uptake and acetylcholine-metabolizing enzymes in CNS white matter. A quantitative study

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The presence of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors suggests the occurrence of cholinergic neurotransmission in white matter; however no quantitative information exists on acetylcholine formation and breakdown in white matter. We compared white structures of pig brain (fimbria, corpus callosum, pyramidal tracts, and occipital white matter) to gray structures (temporal, parietal and cerebellar cortices, hippocampus, and caudate) and found that sodium-dependent, high-affinity choline uptake in white structures was 25–31% of that in hippocampus. White matter choline acetyltransferase activity was 10–50% of the hippocampal value; the highest activity was found in fimbria. Acetylcholine esterase activity in white structures was 20–25% of that in hippocampus. The caudate, which is rich in cholinergic interneurons, gave values for all three parameters that were 2.8–4 times higher than in hippocampus. The results suggest a certain capacity for cholinergic neurotransmission in central nervous white matter. The white matter activity of pyruvate dehydrogenase, which provides acetyl-CoA for acetylcholine synthesis, ranged between 33 and 50% of the hippocampal activity; the activity in the caudate was similar to that in hippocampus and the other gray structures, which was true also for other enzymes of glucose metabolism: hexokinase, phosphoglucomutase, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. Acetylcholine esterase activity in white matter was inhibited by the nerve agent soman, which may help explain the reported deleterious effect of soman on white matter. Further, this finding suggests that acetylcholine esterase inhibitors used in Alzheimer's disease may have an effect in white matter.

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