Vesicular Acetylcholine Transporter & Vesicular Monoamine Transporter
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Acetylcholine, the first chemical to be identified as a neurotransmitter, is packed in synaptic vesicles by the activity of VAChT (vesicular acetylcholine transporter). A decrease in VAChT expression has been reported in a number of diseases, and this has consequences for the amount of acetylcholine loaded in synaptic vesicles as well as for neurotransmitter release. Several genetically modified mice targeting the VAChT gene have been generated, providing novel models to understand how changes in VAChT affect transmitter release. A surprising finding is that most cholinergic neurons in the brain also can express a second type of vesicular neurotransmitter transporter that allows these neurons to secrete two distinct neurotransmitters. Thus a given neuron can use two neurotransmitters to regulate different physiological functions. In addition, recent data indicate that non-neuronal cells can also express the machinery used to synthesize and release acetylcholine. Some of these cells rely on VAChT to secrete acetylcholine with potential physiological consequences in the periphery. Hence novel functions for the oldest neurotransmitter known are emerging with the potential to provide new targets for the treatment of several pathological conditions.
The majority of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD) demonstrate cerebral vascular changes and impaired regulation of cerebral blood flow, which has been assumed to play an important role in AD pathogenesis (vascular hypothesis of AD). There is strong evidence that both ß-amyloid (A?) oligomers and plaques contribute to vascular injuries and functional impairments of the neurovascular unit. Vice versa, A? lesions can be triggered by hypertension and ischemic brain injury, while A? aggregates appear to have anti-angiogenic properties. Cholinergic dysfunction may result in impaired cerebral blood flow with consequences on normal function of the neurovascular unit including processing of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). To characterize in vivo the developmental relationship between Aß formation and deposition, cortical cholinergic innervation and cerebrovascular abnormalities, transgenic Tg2576 mice that overexpress the Swedish double mutation of human APP, and demonstrate significant cerebral cortical deposition of A? plaques at ages from 9 months onwards, were considered as an appropriate animal model. Using the somatosensory cortex as a representative region, serial cryocut sections, were obtained from mice at ages ranging from 4 up to 18 months. These were subjected to immunohistochemistry to label vascular endothelial cells (anti-glucose transporter 1 (GluT1) immunostaining), cholinergic nerve terminals (anti-vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) immunostaining) and ß-amyloid plaques (thioflavin S, and/or Solanum tuberosum lectin staining). This was followed by a thorough quantitative evaluation of the age-related spatial relationship between cerebral cortical capillaries, Aß plaques and cholinergic terminals, using computer-assisted image analysis. The density of cholinergic terminals estimated by evaluation of VAChT immunohistochemistry in somatosensory cortical sections of wild type mice did not change with aging regardless of the cortical layer examined, while in cortical layers II/III and IV of somatosensory cortex of transgenic Tg2576 mice age-related decreases in cholinergic fiber densities were assessed. However, quantitative morphometric analysis demonstrated an age-related reduction in the number of varicosities on cholinergic fibers, particularly in layer IV, in both transgenic Tg2576 mice and non-transgenic littermates. Cholinergic innervation of microvessels in the somatosensory cortex decreased with aging in both Tg2576 mice and non-transgenic littermates, as revealed by estimating the ratio of the number of cholinergic vascular contacts and total length of blood vessel. There was no significant difference in the perivascular cholinergic innervation in areas that demonstrated significant plaque load and those with no plaque deposits regardless of the cortical layer examined. The density of blood vessels estimated in the somatosensory cortex of transgenic mice by anti-GluT-1 immunohistochemistry did not differ to that obtained in wild type mice before the onset of plaque deposition (younger than 10 months). However, in aged, 18-month-old Tg2576 mice, demonstrating high plaque loads, decreased blood vessel densities, particularly in layer IV of the somatosensory cortex, were observed. The data obtained in this study strongly support the idea of an age-related interplay between A? accumulation, cholinergic dysfunction, and vascular impairments. However, it remains to be elucidated as to which processes play a causative role and which events are secondary. A potential mechanism is provided by the vascular hypothesis of AD. Aging-, and life-style-associated damage of the brain microvasculature may affect Aß clearance and perivascular drainage, promoting cerebrovascular Aß deposition, inducing partial loss of cholinergic vascular innervation and changes in vascular function, angiogenesis and upregulation of the vesicular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) with consequences on APP processing and Aß accumulation.
Cholinergic neurons are known to regulate striatal circuits; however, striatal-dependent physiological outcomes influenced by acetylcholine (ACh) are still poorly under;?>stood. Here, we used vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT)(D2-Cre-flox/flox) mice, in which we selectively ablated the vesicular acetylcholine transporter in the striatum to dissect the specific roles of striatal ACh in metabolic homeostasis. We report that VAChT(D) (2-Cre-flox/flox) mice are lean at a young age and maintain this lean phenotype with time. The reduced body weight observed in these mutant mice is not attributable to reduced food intake or to a decrease in growth rate. In addition, changed activity could not completely explain the lean phenotype, as only young VAChT(D) (2-Cre-flox/flox) mice showed increased physical activity. Interestingly, VAChT(D) (2-Cre-flox/flox) mice show several metabolic changes, including increased plasma levels of insulin and leptin. They also show increased periods of wakefulness when compared with littermate controls. Taken together, our data suggest that striatal ACh has an important role in the modulation of metabolism and highlight the importance of striatum cholinergic tone in the regulation of energy expenditure. These new insights on how cholinergic neurons influence homeostasis open new avenues for the search of drug targets to treat obesity.
Cholinergic neurotransmission in the hippocampus is involved in cognitive functions, including learning and memory. Strategies to enhance septohippocampal cholinergic neurotransmission may therefore be of therapeutic value to limit cognitive decline during cholinergic dysfunction. In addition to current strategies being developed, such as the use of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, enhancing acetylcholine (ACh) release may be critical for optimal cholinergic neurotransmission. Vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) activity limits the rate of formation of the readily releasable ACh pool. As such, we sought to determine the influence of increased VAChT expression on the septohippocampal cholinergic system. To do this, we used the B6.eGFPChAT congenic mouse, which we show contains multiple gene copies of VAChT. In this transgenic mouse, the increased VAChT gene copy number led to an increase in VAChT gene expression in the septum and a corresponding enhancement of VAChT protein in the hippocampal formation. VAChT overexpression enhanced the release of ACh from ex vivo hippocampal slices. From these findings, we conclude that VAChT overexpression is sufficient to enhance ACh release in the hippocampal formation. It remains to be established whether, in cases of cholinergic deficits, increasing VAChT expression would re-establish adequate levels of cholinergic neurotransmission, thereby providing a valid therapeutic target.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common form of dementia in the general population, usually relies upon the presence of typical clinical features and structural changes on brain magnetic resonance imaging. Over the last decade, a number of biological abnormalities have been reported in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of AD patients, in particular altered levels of the tau protein and the 1-42 fragment of the amyloid precursor protein. These, however, have not yet proved sensitive and specific enough to be included in the diagnostic criteria for AD, leaving plenty of room for the search of novel biomarkers. The present study describes the analysis of CSF polypeptides by a protein-chip array technology called surface enhanced laser desorption/ionization-time of flight-mass spectrometry (SELDI-TOF-MS). Using this approach, we detected statistically significant quantitative differences (p < 0.05) regarding four overexpressed and one underexpressed polypeptides in the CSF of AD patients as compared to healthy controls. Four of them were further purified by strong anionic exchange chromatography (SAX) and identified by MS analysis as cystatin C, two beta-2-microglobulin isoforms, an unknown 7.7 kDa polypeptide, and a 4.8 kDa VGF polypeptide. The combination of the five polypeptides for the diagnosis of AD allowed to classified six AD patients out of the nine included in this study and all the ten controls, which means in this small cohort that the specificity and sensitivity are 100% and 66%, respectively. This study, based on the protein-chip array technology, demonstrates the presence in the CSF of novel potential biomarkers for AD, which may be used for the diagnosis and perhaps the assessment of the severity and progression of the disease.
Chromogranin A, chromogranin B, and secretogranin II are acidic proteins which are stored in large dense core vesicles of neurons. An antiserum, raised against a synthetic peptide (PE-11), present in the chromogranin B molecule, and an antiserum raised against secretoneurin contained in the secretogranin II sequence, was used to localize these peptides together with chromogranin A in the human hippocampal formation. The distribution of these peptides was investigated in Alzheimer's disease and compared to control subjects. Chromogranin A, chromogranin B, and secretogranin II are distinctly distributed with an overlap in their distribution patterns. They were only detected in neuronal structures. The highest density of immunoreactivity was found for chromogranin B. A layer specific distribution was especially obvious in the inner molecular layer of the dentate gyrus as secretoneurin-like immunoreactivity was restricted to its innermost part whereas that of chromogranin B was highly concentrated throughout the inner molecular layer. In Alzheimer's disease, about 10 to 20% of the amyloid-immunoreactive plaques contained either chromogranin A, chromogranin B or secretoneurin. The density of secretoneurin-and chromogranin B-like immunoreactivity was significantly reduced in the inner molecular layer of the dentate gyyrs, the CA1 area, the subiculum and in layers I, III and V of the entorhinal cortex. The present study demonstrates that chromogranin peptides are markers for human hippocampal pathways. Thee are particularly suitable to study nerve fibers, terminating at the inner molecular layer of the dentate gyrus. Chromogranin peptides have a potential as neuronal markers for synaptic degeneration in Alzheimer's disease.
Acetylcholine, catecholamines, serotonin, and histamine are classical neurotransmitters. These small molecules also play important roles in the endocrine and immune/inflammatory systems. Serotonin secreted from enterochromaffin cells of the gut epithelium regulates gut motility; histamine secreted from basophils and mast cells is a major regulator of vascular permeability and skin inflammatory responses; epinephrine is a classical hormone released from the adrenal medulla. Each of these molecules is released from neural, endocrine, or immune/inflammatory cells only in response to specific physiological stimuli. Regulated secretion is possible because amines are stored in secretory vesicles and released via a stimulus-dependent exocytotic event. Amine storage-at concentrations orders of magnitude higher than in the cytoplasm-is accomplished in turn by specific secretory vesicle transporters that recognize the amines and move them from the cytosol into the vesicle. Immunohistochemical visualization of specific vesicular amine transporters (VATs) in neuronal, endocrine, and inflammatory cells provides important new information about how amine-handling cell phenotypes arise during development and how vesicular transport is regulated during homeostatic response events. Comparison of the chemical neuroanatomy of VATs and amine biosynthetic enzymes has also revealed cell groups that express vesicular transporters but not enzymes for monoamine synthesis, and vice versa: their function and regulation is a new topic of investigation in mammalian neurobiology. The chemical neuroanatomy of the vesicular amine transporters is reviewed here. These and similar data emerging from the study of the localization of the recently characterized vesicular inhibitory and excitatory amino acid transporters will contribute to understanding chemically coded synaptic circuitry in the brain, and amine-handling neuroendocrine and immune/inflammatory cell regulation.
Secretoneurin is a recently described peptide derived by endoproteolytic processing from secretogranin II, previously named chromogranin C. In this study, we have investigated the distribution of secretoneurin-like immunoreactivity in the human hippocampus in controls and in Alzheimer's disease patients, and compared the staining pattern to that of calretinin. Secretoneurin-like immunoreactivity is present throughout the hippocampal formation. At the border of the dentate molecular layer and the granule cell layer, a band of dense secretoneurin immunostaining appeared. In this part, as in the area of the CA2 sector, the high density of secretoneurin-immunoreactivity coincided with calretinin-like immunoreactivity. The mossy fibre system displayed a moderate density of secretoneurin-immunoreactivity. In the entorhinal cortex, a particularly high density of secretoneurin-immunoreactivity was observed. The density of secretoneurin-like immunoreactivity was significantly reduced in the innermost part of the molecular layer and in the outer molecular layer of the dentate gyrus in Alzheimer's disease. For calretinin-like immunoreactivity, a less pronounced decrease was found in the innermost part of the molecular layer. About 40-60% of neuritic plaques were secretoneurin-immunopositive. This study shows that secretoneurin is distinctly distributed in the human hippocampus and that significant changes of secretoneurin-like immunoreactivity occur in Alzheimer's disease, reflecting synaptic loss.
Human cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) contains chromogranin A and B and secretogranin II which represent peptides secreted from neuronal large dense core vesicles. Within these vesicles these precursor peptides are at least partly processed to smaller peptides. We analysed the CSF levels of chromogranins/secretogranin by radioimmunoassay using specific antisera. The degree of their processing was characterized by molecular sieve column chromatography followed by radioimmunoassay. As previously shown secretogranin II is fully processed to smaller peptides including the peptide secretoneurin, whereas processing of chromogranin A was more limited. For chromogranin B we found in this study a high degree of processing comparable to that of secretogranin II. An analysis of CSF from patients with multiple sclerosis, essential tremor, Alzheimer and Parkinson disease, did not reveal any differences in proteolytic processing of chromogranins/secretogranin when compared to control CSF. We conclude that in the four diseases investigated there is no change in the proteolytic processing of the chromogranins/secretogranin within the large dense core vesicles. The absolute levels of chromogranins/secretogranin varied in CSF collected in different hospitals, however their relative ratios were remarkable constant. We suggest to use this ratio as a parameter to standardise CSF levels of other peptides, e.g. neuropeptides. In Parkinson patients the chromogranin A/secretogranin II ratio was significantly increased whereas in Alzheimer patients and those with essential tremor and multiple sclerosis no change of the ratios was observed. Apparently there are only limited changes in the biosynthesis, processing, secretion and CSF clearance of these peptides in pathological conditions.
We have analysed several markers for small synaptic vesicles (synaptin-synaptophysin, p65 and SV2) and large dense-core vesicles (chromogranin A, secretogranin II/chromogranin C) in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, and normal controls by immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. In comparison to age-matched controls the levels of all three synaptic vesicle markers were decreased in temporal cortex of Alzheimer patients. On the other hand, the levels of chromogranin A were increased, and those of secretogranin II lowered. This resulted in a significant increase of the ratios of chromogranin A to synaptophysin, p65 or SV2 and of that for chromogranin A to secretogranin II. These increases were significantly correlated to clinical severity of dementia and extent of neuropathological changes. By immunohistochemistry a high percentage of senile plaques was found to contain chromogranin A-reactive dystrophic neurites, whereas synaptophysin reactivity within plaques was rare. These results indicate that the number of synaptic vesicles is lowered in Alzheimer's disease, and that one component of large dense-core vesicles i.e. chromogranin A, is elevated. We, thus, suggest that in Alzheimer's brain distinct changes occur for both types of synaptic organelles.