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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Distinct muscarinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes mediate pre- and postsynaptic effects in rat neocortex

Sylvain Gigout1, Gareth A Jones2, Stephan Wierschke1, Ceri H Davies2, Jeannette M Watson2 and Rudolf A Deisz1*

Author affiliations

1 Center for Anatomy, Institute for Cell Biology and Neurobiology, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Philippstr. 12, 10115, Berlin, Germany

2 GlaxoSmithKline, Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery, Third Avenue, Harlow, Essex, CM19 5AW, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-42

Published: 27 April 2012



Cholinergic transmission has been implicated in learning, memory and cognition. However, the cellular effects induced by muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) activation are poorly understood in the neocortex. We investigated the effects of the cholinergic agonist carbachol (CCh) and various agonists and antagonists on neuronal activity in rat neocortical slices using intracellular (sharp microelectrode) and field potential recordings.


CCh increased neuronal firing but reduced synaptic transmission. The increase of neuronal firing was antagonized by pirenzepine (M1/M4 mAChRs antagonist) but not by AF-DX 116 (M2/M4 mAChRs antagonist). Pirenzepine reversed the depressant effect of CCh on excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) but had marginal effects when applied before CCh. AF-DX 116 antagonized the depression of EPSP when applied before or during CCh. CCh also decreased the paired-pulse inhibition of field potentials and the inhibitory conductances mediated by GABAA and GABAB receptors. The depression of paired-pulse inhibition was antagonized or prevented by AF-DX 116 or atropine but only marginally by pirenzepine. The inhibitory conductances were unaltered by xanomeline (M1/M4 mAChRs agonist), yet the CCh-induced depression was antagonized by AF-DX 116. Linopirdine, a selective M-current blocker, mimicked the effect of CCh on neuronal firing. However, linopirdine had no effect on the amplitude of EPSP or on the paired-pulse inhibition, indicating that M-current is involved in the increase of neuronal excitability but neither in the depression of EPSP nor paired-pulse inhibition.


These data indicate that the three effects are mediated by different mAChRs, the increase in firing being mediated by M1 mAChR, decrease of inhibition by M2 mAChR and depression of excitatory transmission by M4 mAChR. The depression of EPSP and increase of neuronal firing might enhance the signal-to-noise ratio, whereas the concomitant depression of inhibition would facilitate long-term potentiation. Thus, this triade of effects may represent a “neuronal correlate” of attention and learning.

Carbachol; M-current; Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors; Sensorimotor cortex; Cognition; Synaptic transmission