It is now evident that acetylcholine (ACh) synthesized by choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and released from T cells during antigen presentation binds to muscarinic and nicotinic ACh receptors (mAChRs and nAChRs, respectively) on T and B cells or dendritic cells, leading to modulation of their function. In the present study, we used reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to investigate whether mononuclear leukocytes (MNLs), bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (DCs) and macrophages from C57BL/6J mice express components of the cholinergic system. Expression of ChAT mRNA was detected in MNLs activated with ConA and DCs stimulated with LPS, but not in resting MNLs and DCs or in resting and stimulated macrophages. MNLs, DCs and macrophages all expressed mRNAs encoding the five mAChR subtypes (M1-M5) and the nAChR α2, α5, α6, α7, α10 and β2 subunits. Expression of VIP mRNA was detected in MNLs and macrophages, but not in DCs. MNLs, DCs and macrophages all expressed VIP receptor-1 (VPAC1) and -2 (VPAC2) mRNAs, as well as mRNAs encoding secreted mammalian Ly-6/urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor-related protein (SLURP)-1 and SLURP-2, two endogenous nAChR ligands. These results suggest that the lymphocytic cholinergic system is activated by ACh via mAChR- and nAChR-mediated pathways during antigen presentation between T cells and DCs or macrophages, leading to modulation of immune cell function. Moreover, VIP released from both postganglionic cholinergic neurons and immune cells may play a role in the cholinergic anti-inflammatory reflex, acting via VPAC1 and VPAC2 on immune cells.
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