Last updated
Clinical data
Other namesACh
Physiological data
Source tissues motor neurons, parasympathetic nervous system, brain
Target tissues skeletal muscles, brain, many other organs
Receptors nicotinic, muscarinic
Agonists nicotine, muscarine, cholinesterase inhibitors
Antagonists tubocurarine, atropine
Precursor choline, acetyl-CoA
Biosynthesis choline acetyltransferase
Metabolism acetylcholinesterase
  • 2-Acetoxy-N,N,N-trimethylethanaminium
CAS Number
PubChem CID
E number E1001(i) (additional chemicals) OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
ECHA InfoCard 100.000.118 OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Chemical and physical data
Formula C7H16NO2
Molar mass 146.210 g·mol−1

Acetylcholine (ACh) is an organic chemical that functions in the brain and body of many types of animals (including humans) as a neurotransmitter. [1] Its name is derived from its chemical structure: it is an ester of acetic acid and choline. Parts in the body that use or are affected by acetylcholine are referred to as cholinergic. Substances that increase or decrease the overall activity of the cholinergic system are called cholinergics and anticholinergics, respectively.


Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter used at the neuromuscular junction—in other words, it is the chemical that motor neurons of the nervous system release in order to activate muscles. This property means that drugs that affect cholinergic systems can have very dangerous effects ranging from paralysis to convulsions. Acetylcholine is also a neurotransmitter in the autonomic nervous system, both as an internal transmitter for the sympathetic nervous system and as the final product released by the parasympathetic nervous system. [1] Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system. [2]

In the brain, acetylcholine functions as a neurotransmitter and as a neuromodulator. The brain contains a number of cholinergic areas, each with distinct functions; such as playing an important role in arousal, attention, memory and motivation. [3]

Acetylcholine has also been found in cells of non-neural origins as well as microbes. Recently, enzymes related to its synthesis, degradation and cellular uptake have been traced back to early origins of unicellular eukaryotes. [4] The protist pathogen Acanthamoeba spp. has shown evidence of the presence of ACh, which provides growth and proliferative signals via a membrane located M1-muscarinic receptor homolog. [5]

Partly because of its muscle-activating function, but also because of its functions in the autonomic nervous system and brain, many important drugs exert their effects by altering cholinergic transmission. Numerous venoms and toxins produced by plants, animals, and bacteria, as well as chemical nerve agents such as Sarin, cause harm by inactivating or hyperactivating muscles through their influences on the neuromuscular junction. Drugs that act on muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, such as atropine, can be poisonous in large quantities, but in smaller doses they are commonly used to treat certain heart conditions and eye problems. Scopolamine, which acts mainly on muscarinic receptors in the brain, can cause delirium, hallucinations, and amnesia. The addictive qualities of nicotine are derived from its effects on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain.


Acetylcholine is a choline molecule that has been acetylated at the oxygen atom. Because of the charged ammonium group, acetylcholine does not penetrate lipid membranes. Because of this, when the molecule is introduced externally, it remains in the extracellular space and does not pass through the blood–brain barrier.


Acetylcholine is synthesized in certain neurons by the enzyme choline acetyltransferase from the compounds choline and acetyl-CoA. Cholinergic neurons are capable of producing ACh. An example of a central cholinergic area is the nucleus basalis of Meynert in the basal forebrain. [6] [7] The enzyme acetylcholinesterase converts acetylcholine into the inactive metabolites choline and acetate. This enzyme is abundant in the synaptic cleft, and its role in rapidly clearing free acetylcholine from the synapse is essential for proper muscle function. Certain neurotoxins work by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, thus leading to excess acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, causing paralysis of the muscles needed for breathing and stopping the beating of the heart.


Acetylcholine pathway. Acetylcholine Pathway.png
Acetylcholine pathway.

Acetylcholine functions in both the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). In the CNS, cholinergic projections from the basal forebrain to the cerebral cortex and hippocampus support the cognitive functions of those target areas. In the PNS, acetylcholine activates muscles and is a major neurotransmitter in the autonomic nervous system.

Cellular effects

Acetylcholine processing in a synapse. After release acetylcholine is broken down by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Cholinergic synapse.svg
Acetylcholine processing in a synapse. After release acetylcholine is broken down by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase.

Like many other biologically active substances, acetylcholine exerts its effects by binding to and activating receptors located on the surface of cells. There are two main classes of acetylcholine receptor, nicotinic and muscarinic. They are named for chemicals that can selectively activate each type of receptor without activating the other: muscarine is a compound found in the mushroom Amanita muscaria ; nicotine is found in tobacco.

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are ligand-gated ion channels permeable to sodium, potassium, and calcium ions. In other words, they are ion channels embedded in cell membranes, capable of switching from a closed to an open state when acetylcholine binds to them; in the open state they allow ions to pass through. Nicotinic receptors come in two main types, known as muscle-type and neuronal-type. The muscle-type can be selectively blocked by curare, the neuronal-type by hexamethonium. The main location of muscle-type receptors is on muscle cells, as described in more detail below. Neuronal-type receptors are located in autonomic ganglia (both sympathetic and parasympathetic), and in the central nervous system.

Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors have a more complex mechanism, and affect target cells over a longer time frame. In mammals, five subtypes of muscarinic receptors have been identified, labeled M1 through M5. All of them function as G protein-coupled receptors, meaning that they exert their effects via a second messenger system. The M1, M3, and M5 subtypes are Gq-coupled; they increase intracellular levels of IP3 and calcium by activating phospholipase C. Their effect on target cells is usually excitatory. The M2 and M4 subtypes are Gi/Go-coupled; they decrease intracellular levels of cAMP by inhibiting adenylate cyclase. Their effect on target cells is usually inhibitory. Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors are found in both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system of the heart, lungs, upper gastrointestinal tract, and sweat glands.

Neuromuscular junction

Muscles contract when they receive signals from motor neurons. The neuromuscular junction is the site of the signal exchange. The steps of this process in vertebrates occur as follows: (1) The action potential reaches the axon terminal. (2) Calcium ions flow into the axon terminal. (3) Acetylcholine is released into the synaptic cleft. (4) Acetylcholine binds to postsynaptic receptors. (5) This binding causes ion channels to open and allows sodium ions to flow into the muscle cell. (6) The flow of sodium ions across the membrane into the muscle cell generates an action potential which induces muscle contraction. Labels: A: Motor neuron axon B: Axon terminal C: Synaptic cleft D: Muscle cell E: Part of a Myofibril The Muscle Contraction Process.png
Muscles contract when they receive signals from motor neurons. The neuromuscular junction is the site of the signal exchange. The steps of this process in vertebrates occur as follows: (1) The action potential reaches the axon terminal. (2) Calcium ions flow into the axon terminal. (3) Acetylcholine is released into the synaptic cleft. (4) Acetylcholine binds to postsynaptic receptors. (5) This binding causes ion channels to open and allows sodium ions to flow into the muscle cell. (6) The flow of sodium ions across the membrane into the muscle cell generates an action potential which induces muscle contraction. Labels: A: Motor neuron axon B: Axon terminal C: Synaptic cleft D: Muscle cell E: Part of a Myofibril

Acetylcholine is the substance the nervous system uses to activate skeletal muscles, a kind of striated muscle. These are the muscles used for all types of voluntary movement, in contrast to smooth muscle tissue, which is involved in a range of involuntary activities such as movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract and constriction of blood vessels. Skeletal muscles are directly controlled by motor neurons located in the spinal cord or, in a few cases, the brainstem. These motor neurons send their axons through motor nerves, from which they emerge to connect to muscle fibers at a special type of synapse called the neuromuscular junction.

When a motor neuron generates an action potential, it travels rapidly along the nerve until it reaches the neuromuscular junction, where it initiates an electrochemical process that causes acetylcholine to be released into the space between the presynaptic terminal and the muscle fiber. The acetylcholine molecules then bind to nicotinic ion-channel receptors on the muscle cell membrane, causing the ion channels to open. Sodium ions then flow into the muscle cell, initiating a sequence of steps that finally produce muscle contraction.

Factors that decrease release of acetylcholine (and thereby affecting P-type calcium channels): [8]

  1. Antibiotics (clindamycin, polymyxin)
  2. Magnesium: antagonizes P-type calcium channels
  3. Hypocalcemia
  4. Anticonvulsants
  5. Diuretics (furosemide)
  6. Eaton-Lambert syndrome: inhibits P-type calcium channels
  7. Myasthenia gravis
  8. Botulinum toxin: inhibits SNARE proteins

Calcium channel blockers (nifedipine, diltiazem) do not affect P-channels. These drugs affect L-type calcium channels.

Autonomic nervous system

Components and connections of the parasympathetic nervous system. 1503 Connections of the Parasympathetic Nervous System.jpg
Components and connections of the parasympathetic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system controls a wide range of involuntary and unconscious body functions. Its main branches are the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. Broadly speaking, the function of the sympathetic nervous system is to mobilize the body for action; the phrase often invoked to describe it is fight-or-flight. The function of the parasympathetic nervous system is to put the body in a state conducive to rest, regeneration, digestion, and reproduction; the phrase often invoked to describe it is "rest and digest" or "feed and breed". Both of these aforementioned systems use acetylcholine, but in different ways.

At a schematic level, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are both organized in essentially the same way: preganglionic neurons in the central nervous system send projections to neurons located in autonomic ganglia, which send output projections to virtually every tissue of the body. In both branches the internal connections, the projections from the central nervous system to the autonomic ganglia, use acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter to innervate (or excite) ganglia neurons. In the parasympathetic nervous system the output connections, the projections from ganglion neurons to tissues that don't belong to the nervous system, also release acetylcholine but act on muscarinic receptors. In the sympathetic nervous system the output connections mainly release noradrenaline, although acetylcholine is released at a few points, such as the sudomotor innervation of the sweat glands.

Direct vascular effects

Acetylcholine in the serum exerts a direct effect on vascular tone by binding to muscarinic receptors present on vascular endothelium. These cells respond by increasing production of nitric oxide, which signals the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, leading to vasodilation. [9]

Central nervous system

Micrograph of the nucleus basalis (of Meynert), which produces acetylcholine in the CNS. LFB-HE stain. Nucleus basalis of Meynert - intermed mag.jpg
Micrograph of the nucleus basalis (of Meynert), which produces acetylcholine in the CNS. LFB-HE stain.

In the central nervous system, ACh has a variety of effects on plasticity, arousal and reward. ACh has an important role in the enhancement of alertness when we wake up, [10] in sustaining attention [11] and in learning and memory. [12]

Damage to the cholinergic (acetylcholine-producing) system in the brain has been shown to be associated with the memory deficits associated with Alzheimer's disease. [13] ACh has also been shown to promote REM sleep. [14]

In the brainstem acetylcholine originates from the Pedunculopontine nucleus and laterodorsal tegmental nucleus collectively known as the mesopontine tegmentum area or pontomesencephalotegmental complex. [15] [16] In the basal forebrain, it originates from the basal nucleus of Meynert and medial septal nucleus:

In addition, ACh acts as an important internal transmitter in the striatum, which is part of the basal ganglia. It is released by cholinergic interneurons. In humans, non-human primates and rodents, these interneurons respond to salient environmental stimuli with responses that are temporally aligned with the responses of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra. [17] [18]


Acetylcholine has been implicated in learning and memory in several ways. The anticholinergic drug, scopolamine, impairs acquisition of new information in humans [19] and animals. [12] In animals, disruption of the supply of acetylcholine to the neocortex impairs the learning of simple discrimination tasks, comparable to the acquisition of factual information [20] and disruption of the supply of acetylcholine to the hippocampus and adjacent cortical areas produces forgetfulness, comparable to anterograde amnesia in humans. [21]

Diseases and disorders

Myasthenia gravis

The disease myasthenia gravis, characterized by muscle weakness and fatigue, occurs when the body inappropriately produces antibodies against acetylcholine nicotinic receptors, and thus inhibits proper acetylcholine signal transmission. Over time, the motor end plate is destroyed. Drugs that competitively inhibit acetylcholinesterase (e.g., neostigmine, physostigmine, or primarily pyridostigmine) are effective in treating the symptoms of this disorder. They allow endogenously released acetylcholine more time to interact with its respective receptor before being inactivated by acetylcholinesterase in the synaptic cleft (the space between nerve and muscle).


Blocking, hindering or mimicking the action of acetylcholine has many uses in medicine. Drugs acting on the acetylcholine system are either agonists to the receptors, stimulating the system, or antagonists, inhibiting it. Acetylcholine receptor agonists and antagonists can either have an effect directly on the receptors or exert their effects indirectly, e.g., by affecting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which degrades the receptor ligand. Agonists increase the level of receptor activation, antagonists reduce it.

Acetylcholine itself does not have therapeutic value as a drug for intravenous administration because of its multi-faceted action (non-selective) and rapid inactivation by cholinesterase. However, it is used in the form of eye drops to cause constriction of the pupil during cataract surgery, which facilitates quick post-operational recovery.

Nicotinic receptors

Nicotine binds to and activates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, mimicking the effect of acetylcholine at these receptors. ACh opens a Na+channel upon binding so that Na+ flows into the cell. This causes a depolarization, and results in an excitatory post-synaptic potential. Thus, ACh is excitatory on skeletal muscle; the electrical response is fast and short-lived. Curares are arrow poisons, which act at nicotinic receptors and have been used to develop clinically useful therapies.

Muscarinic receptors

Muscarinic receptors form G protein-coupled receptor complexes in the cell membranes of neurons and other cells. Atropine is a non-selective competitive antagonist with Acetylcholine at muscarinic receptors.

Cholinesterase inhibitors

Many ACh receptor agonists work indirectly by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. The resulting accumulation of acetylcholine causes continuous stimulation of the muscles, glands, and central nervous system, which can result in fatal convulsions if the dose is high.

They are examples of enzyme inhibitors, and increase the action of acetylcholine by delaying its degradation; some have been used as nerve agents (Sarin and VX nerve gas) or pesticides (organophosphates and the carbamates). Many toxins and venoms produced by plants and animals also contain cholinesterase inhibitors. In clinical use, they are administered in low doses to reverse the action of muscle relaxants, to treat myasthenia gravis, and to treat symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (rivastigmine, which increases cholinergic activity in the brain).

Synthesis inhibitors

Organic mercurial compounds, such as methylmercury, have a high affinity for sulfhydryl groups, which causes dysfunction of the enzyme choline acetyltransferase. This inhibition may lead to acetylcholine deficiency, and can have consequences on motor function.

Release inhibitors

Botulinum toxin (Botox) acts by suppressing the release of acetylcholine, whereas the venom from a black widow spider (alpha-latrotoxin) has the reverse effect. ACh inhibition causes paralysis. When bitten by a black widow spider, one experiences the wastage of ACh supplies and the muscles begin to contract. If and when the supply is depleted, paralysis occurs.

Comparative biology and evolution

Acetylcholine is used by organisms in all domains of life for a variety of purposes. It is believed that choline, a precursor to acetylcholine, was used by single celled organisms billions of years ago[ citation needed ] for synthesizing cell membrane phospholipids. [22] Following the evolution of choline transporters, the abundance of intracellular choline paved the way for choline to become incorporated into other synthetic pathways, including acetylcholine production. Acetylcholine is used by bacteria, fungi, and a variety of other animals. Many of the uses of acetylcholine rely on its action on ion channels via GPCRs like membrane proteins.

The two major types of acetylcholine receptors, muscarinic and nicotinic receptors, have convergently evolved to be responsive to acetylcholine. This means that rather than having evolved from a common homolog, these receptors evolved from separate receptor families. It is estimated that the nicotinic receptor family dates back longer than 2.5 billion years. [22] Likewise, muscarinic receptors are thought to have diverged from other GPCRs at least 0.5 billion years ago. Both of these receptor groups have evolved numerous subtypes with unique ligand affinities and signaling mechanisms. The diversity of the receptor types enables acetylcholine to create varying responses depending on which receptor types are activated, and allow for acetylcholine to dynamically regulate physiological processes. ACh receptors are related to 5-HT3 (serotonin), GABA, and Glycine receptors, both in sequence and structure, strongly suggesting that they have a common evolutionary origin. [23]


In 1867, Adolf von Baeyer resolved the structures of choline and acetylcholine and synthetized them both, referring to the latter as "acetylneurin" in the study. [24] [25] Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine. This is why Frederick Walker Mott and William Dobinson Halliburton noted in 1899 that choline injections decreased the blood pressure of animals. [26] [25] Acetylcholine was first noted to be biologically active in 1906, when Reid Hunt (1870–1948) and René de M. Taveau found that it decreased blood pressure in exceptionally tiny doses. [27] [25] [28]

In 1914, Arthur J. Ewins was the first to extract acetylcholine from nature. He identified it as the blood pressure decreasing contaminant from some Claviceps purpurea ergot extracts, by the request of Henry Hallett Dale. [25] Later in 1914, Dale outlined the effects of acetylcholine at various types of peripheral synapses and also noted that it lowered the blood pressure of cats via subcutaneous injections even at doses of one nanogram. [29] [25]

The concept of neurotransmitters was unknown until 1921, when Otto Loewi noted that the vagus nerve secreted a substance that inhibited the heart muscle whilst working as a professor in the University of Graz. He named it vagusstoff ("vagus substance"), noted it to be a structural analog of choline and suspected it to be acetylcholine. [30] [31] In 1926, Loewi and E. Navratil deduced that the compound is probably acetylcholine, as vagusstoff and synthetic acetylcholine lost their activity in a similar manner when in contact with tissue lysates that contained acetylcholine-degrading enzymes (now known to be cholinesterases). [32] [33] This conclusion was accepted widely. Later studies confirmed the function of acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter. [31]

In 1936, H. H. Dale and O. Loewi shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their studies of acetylcholine and nerve impulses. [25]

See also

Specific references

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General bibliography

Related Research Articles

Neurotransmitter Chemical substance that enables neurotransmission

A neurotransmitter is a signaling molecule secreted by a neuron to affect another cell across a synapse. The cell receiving the signal, any main body part or target cell, may be another neuron, but could also be a gland or muscle cell.

Acetylcholine receptor Integral membrane protein

An acetylcholine receptor is an integral membrane protein that responds to the binding of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.

Parasympathetic nervous system Division of the autonomic nervous system

The parasympathetic nervous system is one of the three divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the others being the sympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is sometimes considered part of the autonomic nervous system, and sometimes considered an independent system.

Cholinergic Agent which mimics choline

Cholinergic agents are compounds which mimic the action of acetylcholine and/or butyrylcholine. In general, the word "choline" describes the various quaternary ammonium salts containing the N,N,N-trimethylethanolammonium cation. Found in most animal tissues, choline is a primary component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and functions with inositol as a basic constituent of lecithin. Choline also prevents fat deposits in the liver and facilitates the movement of fats into cells.

Choline acetyltransferase Protein-coding gene in the species Homo sapiens

Choline acetyltransferase is a transferase enzyme responsible for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. ChAT catalyzes the transfer of an acetyl group from the coenzyme acetyl-CoA to choline, yielding acetylcholine (ACh). ChAT is found in high concentration in cholinergic neurons, both in the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). As with most nerve terminal proteins, ChAT is produced in the body of the neuron and is transported to the nerve terminal, where its concentration is highest. Presence of ChAT in a nerve cell classifies this cell as a "cholinergic" neuron. In humans, the choline acetyltransferase enzyme is encoded by the CHAT gene.

Neuromuscular junction Junction between the axon of a motor neuron and a muscle fiber

A neuromuscular junction is a chemical synapse between a motor neuron and a muscle fiber.

A parasympathomimetic drug, sometimes called a cholinomimetic drug or cholinergic receptor stimulating agent, is a substance that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). These chemicals are also called cholinergic drugs because acetylcholine (ACh) is the neurotransmitter used by the PSNS. Chemicals in this family can act either directly by stimulating the nicotinic or muscarinic receptors, or indirectly by inhibiting cholinesterase, promoting acetylcholine release, or other mechanisms. Common uses of parasympathomimetics include glaucoma, sjögren syndrome and underactive bladder.

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor Acetylcholine receptors named for their selective binding of nicotine

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChRs, are receptor polypeptides that respond to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Nicotinic receptors also respond to drugs such as the agonist nicotine. They are found in the central and peripheral nervous system, muscle, and many other tissues of many organisms. At the neuromuscular junction they are the primary receptor in muscle for motor nerve-muscle communication that controls muscle contraction. In the peripheral nervous system: (1) they transmit outgoing signals from the presynaptic to the postsynaptic cells within the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and (2) they are the receptors found on skeletal muscle that receive acetylcholine released to signal for muscular contraction. In the immune system, nAChRs regulate inflammatory processes and signal through distinct intracellular pathways. In insects, the cholinergic system is limited to the central nervous system.

Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor Acetylcholine receptors named for their selective binding of muscarine

Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, or mAChRs, are acetylcholine receptors that form G protein-coupled receptor complexes in the cell membranes of certain neurons and other cells. They play several roles, including acting as the main end-receptor stimulated by acetylcholine released from postganglionic fibers in the parasympathetic nervous system.

End-plate potential

End plate potentials (EPPs) are the voltages which cause depolarization of skeletal muscle fibers caused by neurotransmitters binding to the postsynaptic membrane in the neuromuscular junction. They are called "end plates" because the postsynaptic terminals of muscle fibers have a large, saucer-like appearance. When an action potential reaches the axon terminal of a motor neuron, vesicles carrying neurotransmitters are exocytosed and the contents are released into the neuromuscular junction. These neurotransmitters bind to receptors on the postsynaptic membrane and lead to its depolarization. In the absence of an action potential, acetylcholine vesicles spontaneously leak into the neuromuscular junction and cause very small depolarizations in the postsynaptic membrane. This small response (~0.4mV) is called a miniature end plate potential (MEPP) and is generated by one acetylcholine-containing vesicle. It represents the smallest possible depolarization which can be induced in a muscle.

Methacholine Chemical compound

Methacholine, also known as Acetyl-β-methylcholine, is a synthetic choline ester that acts as a non-selective muscarinic receptor agonist in the parasympathetic nervous system.

Neuromodulation is the physiological process by which a given neuron uses one or more chemicals to regulate diverse populations of neurons. Neuromodulators typically bind to metabotropic, G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) to initiate a second messenger signaling cascade that induces a broad, long-lasting signal. This modulation can last for hundreds of milliseconds to several minutes. Some of the effects of neuromodulators include: alter intrinsic firing activity, increase or decrease voltage-dependent currents, alter synaptic efficacy, increase bursting activity and reconfiguration of synaptic connectivity.

Muscarinic antagonist Drug that binds to but does not activate muscarinic cholinergic receptors

A muscarinic receptor antagonist (MRA) is a type of anticholinergic agent that blocks the activity of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor. The muscarinic receptor is a protein involved in the transmission of signals through certain parts of the nervous system, and muscarinic receptor antagonists work to prevent this transmission from occurring. Notably, muscarinic antagonists reduce the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. The normal function of the parasympathetic system is often summarised as "rest-and-digest", and includes slowing of the heart, an increased rate of digestion, narrowing of the airways, promotion of urination, and sexual arousal. Muscarinic antagonists counter this parasympathetic "rest-and-digest" response, and also work elsewhere in both the central and peripheral nervous systems.

A nicotinic agonist is a drug that mimics the action of acetylcholine (ACh) at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The nAChR is named for its affinity for nicotine.

Acetylcholinesterase Primary cholinesterase in the body

Acetylcholinesterase, also known as AChE, AChase or acetylhydrolase, is the primary cholinesterase in the body. It is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of acetylcholine and some other choline esters that function as neurotransmitters. AChE is found at mainly neuromuscular junctions and in chemical synapses of the cholinergic type, where its activity serves to terminate synaptic transmission. It belongs to the carboxylesterase family of enzymes. It is the primary target of inhibition by organophosphorus compounds such as nerve agents and pesticides.

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor Drugs that inhibit acetylcholinesterase

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEIs) also often called cholinesterase inhibitors, inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into choline and acetate, thereby increasing both the level and duration of action of acetylcholine in the central nervous system, autonomic ganglia and neuromuscular junctions, which are rich in acetylcholine receptors. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are one of two types of cholinesterase inhibitors; the other being butyryl-cholinesterase inhibitors. Acetylcholinesterase is the primary member of the cholinesterase enzyme family.

The alpha-3 beta-4 nicotinic receptor, also known as the α3β4 receptor and the ganglion-type nicotinic receptor, is a type of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, consisting of α3 and β4 subunits. It is located in the autonomic ganglia and adrenal medulla, where activation yields post- and/or presynaptic excitation, mainly by increased Na+ and K+ permeability.

Cholinergic neuron

A cholinergic neuron is a nerve cell which mainly uses the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) to send its messages. Many neurological systems are cholinergic. Cholinergic neurons provide the primary source of acetylcholine to the cerebral cortex, and promote cortical activation during both wakefulness and rapid eye movement sleep. The cholinergic system of neurons has been a main focus of research in aging and neural degradation, specifically as it relates to Alzheimer's disease. The dysfunction and loss of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons and their cortical projections are among the earliest pathological events in Alzheimer's disease.

Autonomic drugs can either inhibit or enhance the functions of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. This type of drug can be used to treat a wide range of diseases, such as glaucoma, asthma, urinary, gastrointestinal and cardiopulmonary disorders.

Cholinergic blocking drugs Group of drugs

Cholinergic blocking drugs are a group of drugs that block the action of acetylcholine (ACh), a neurotransmitter, in synapses of the cholinergic nervous system. They block acetylcholine from binding to cholinergic receptors, namely the nicotinic and muscarinic receptors.