2022 Volume 45 Issue 6 Pages 675-683
Immune cells such as T and B cells, monocytes and macrophages all express most of the cholinergic components of the nervous system, including acetylcholine (ACh), choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), high affinity choline transporter, muscarinic and nicotinic ACh receptors (mAChRs and nAChRs, respectively), and acetylcholinesterase (AChE). Because of its efficient cleavage by AChE, ACh synthesized and released from immune cells acts only locally in an autocrine and/or paracrine fashion at mAChRs and nAChRs on themselves and other immune cells located in close proximity, leading to modification of immune function. Immune cells generally express all five mAChR subtypes (M1–M5) and neuron type nAChR subunits α2–α7, α9, α10, β2–β4. The expression pattern and levels of mAChR subtypes and nAChR subunits vary depending on the tissue involved and its immunological status. Immunological activation of T cells via T-cell receptor-mediated pathways and cell adhesion molecules upregulates ChAT expression, which facilitates the synthesis and release of ACh. At present, α7 nAChRs expressed in macrophages are receiving much attention because they play a central role in anti-inflammatory cholinergic pathways. However, it now appears that through modification of cytokine synthesis, Gq/11-coupled mAChRs play a prominent role in regulation of T cell proliferation and differentiation and B cell immunoglobulin class switching. It is anticipated that greater understanding of Gq/11-coupled mAChRs on immune cells will provide an opportunity to develop new and effective treatments for immunological disorders.