Researchers Discover Key Role for Cholinergic Neurons

Researchers Discover Key Role for Cholinergic Neurons
In a recent study entitled “Central Cholinergic Neurons Are Rapidly Recruited by Reinforcement Feedback” and published in Cell, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory researchers found that cholinergic neurons play a key role in the response to unexpected triggers. Cholinergic neurons are nerve cells which mainly use the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to transmit messages throughout the brain. They have been suggested to play a role in attention, arousal and learning mechanisms. Increasing interest in these neurons in recent years is justified by their link to age-related cognitive decline and neurodegeneration, as it occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia in the elderly characterized by cognitive and behavioral problems that gradually lead to behavior and personality changes, a decline in cognitive abilities and ultimately to severe loss of mental function. It has been reported that the dysfunction and loss of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain is among the earliest pathological events associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The precise role of cholinergic neurons in behavior is, however, poorly elucidated, in part due to the technical difficulties to record them in vivo. “These are very, very, difficult-to-find neurons, and they form an incredibly important system in the brain,” explained the study’s senior author Dr. Adam Kepecs in a news release. “Until recently we didn't have the techniques to approach this system with the precision required.” Now, researchers were able to study the activity of cholinergic neurons for the first time through an optogenetic neuron identification technique where mouse neurons are genetically engineered to respond to light. The team assessed the activity of cholinergic neurons i
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