It has been confirmed that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) is present in blood; it is synthesized in T-lymphocytes by choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and released upon T-lymphocyte activation. Both muscarinic and nicotinic ACh receptors have been identified on lymphocytes isolated from thymus, lymph node, spleen and blood, and their stimulation by muscarinic and nicotinic agonists elicits a variety of functional and biochemical effects, providing a strong argument that ACh synthesized and released from T-lymphocytes acts as an autocrine and/or paracrine factor regulating immune function. In the present study, we compared ACh levels in the blood, circulating mononuclear leukocytes (MNLs), thymus and spleen of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs), which exhibit immune deficiencies related to the emergence of natural thymocytotoxic autoantibody, age-related decline of T-cell function and morphological changes in immune organs, with ACh levels in age-matched, normotensive Wistar Kyoto rats. In each case, ACh levels in 5-, 10- and 20-week-old SHRs were significantly lower than in WKYs. ChAT mRNA expression in MNLs was also significantly depressed in the SHRs. These results suggest that diminished synthesis and release of ACh from MNLs into blood and lymphoid organs likely reflects an immune deficiency related to T-cell dysfunction.
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