The anterolateral cell group of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNSTALG) serves as an important relay station in stress circuitry. Limbic inputs to the BNSTALG are primarily glutamatergic and activity-dependent changes in this input have been implicated in abnormal behaviors associated with chronic stress and addiction. Significantly, local infusion of acetylcholine (ACh) receptor agonists into the BNST trigger stress-like cardiovascular responses, however, little is known about the effects of these agents on glutamatergic transmission in the BNSTALG. Here, we show that glutamate- and ACh-containing fibers are found in close association in the BNSTALG. Moreover, in the presence of the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, eserine, endogenous ACh release evoked a long-lasting reduction of the amplitude of stimulus-evoked EPSCs. This effect was mimicked by exogenous application of the ACh analog, carbachol, which caused a reversible, dose-dependent, reduction of the evoked EPSC amplitude, and an increase in both the paired-pulse ratio and coefficient of variation, suggesting a presynaptic site of action. Uncoupling of postsynaptic G-proteins with intracellular GDP-β-S, or application of the nicotinic receptor antagonist, tubocurarine, failed to block the carbachol effect. In contrast, the carbachol effect was blocked by prior application of atropine or M2 receptor-preferring antagonists, and was absent in M2/M4 receptor knockout mice, suggesting that presynaptic M2 receptors mediate the effect of ACh. Immunoelectron microscopy studies further revealed the presence of M2 receptors on axon terminals that formed asymmetric synapses with BNST neurons. Our findings suggest that presynaptic M2 receptors might be an important modulator of the stress circuit and hence a novel target for drug development.Highlights
▸ Endogenous ACh suppresses glutamate release in the BNSTALG. ▸ Effects are mimicked by muscarinic receptor agonists. ▸ Effects are mediated by presynaptic M2 receptors. ▸ EM studies confirm presynaptic M2 receptor expression in the BNSTALG.