In cholinergic nerve terminals, Na+- and Cl--dependent, hemicholinium-3-sensitive, high-affinity choline uptake is thought to be the rate-limiting step in acetylcholine synthesis. The high-affinity choline transporter cDNA responsible for the activity was recently cloned. Here we report production of a highly specific antibody to the high-affinity choline transporter and distribution of the protein in the CNS of the rat. The antibody stained almost all known cholinergic neurons and their terminal fields. High-affinity choline transporter-immunoreactive cell bodies were demonstrated in the olfactory tubercle, basal forebrain complex, striatum, mesopontine complex, medial habenula, cranial nerve motor nuclei, and ventral horn and intermediate zone of the spinal cord. Noticeably, high densities of high-affinity choline transporter-positive axonal fibers and puncta were encountered in many brain regions such as cerebral cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, striatum, several thalamic nuclei, and brainstem. Transection of the hypoglossal nerve resulted in a loss of high-affinity choline transporter immunoreactivity in neurons within the ipsilateral hypoglossal motor nucleus, which paralleled a loss of immunoreactivity to choline acetyltransferase. The antibody also stained brain sections from human and mouse, suggesting cross-reactivity. These results confirm that the high-affinity choline transporter is uniquely expressed in cholinergic neurons and is efficiently transported to axon terminals. The antibody will be useful to investigate possible changes in cholinergic cell bodies and axon terminals in human and rodents under various pathological conditions.
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