Choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), responsible for the synthesis of acetylcholine, plays an important role in neurotransmission. However, no method to visualize the ChAT activity in tissues has been reported to date. In this study, mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) was used to visualize ChAT activity in situ, which is difficult with conventional enzyme histochemistry. By using choline chloride-trimethyl-d9 (choline-d9) as a substrate and simultaneously supplying an inhibitor of cholinesterase to tissues, we succeeded in directly visualizing the ChAT activity in the rodent brain and spinal cord. The findings revealed heterogeneous ChAT activity in the striatum of the mouse brain and in the spinal lower motor neurons that connect the anterior horn to the ventral root. Furthermore, extending the developed method to spinal cord injury (SCI) model mice revealed the site-specific effect of primary and secondary injury on ChAT activity. This study shows that the MSI-based enzyme histochemistry of ChAT could be a useful tool for studying cholinergic neurons.
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