• acetylcholine;
  • diffuse transmission;
  • synaptic transmission;
  • electron microscopy;
  • immunohistochemistry


In many brain areas, few cholinergic synapses are identified. Acetylcholine is released into the extracellular space and acts through diffuse transmission. Motoneurons, however, are contacted by numerous cholinergic terminals, indicating synaptic cholinergic transmission on them. The muscarinic m2 receptor is the major acetylcholine receptor subtype of motoneurons; therefore, we analyzed the localization of the m2 receptor in correlation with synapses by electron microscopic immunohistochemistry in the mouse trigeminal, facial, and hypoglossal motor nuclei. In all nuclei, m2 receptors were localized at the membrane of motoneuronal perikarya and dendrites. The m2 receptors were concentrated at cholinergic synapses located on the perikarya and most proximal dendrites. However, m2 receptors at cholinergic synapses represented only a minority (<10%) of surface m2 receptors. The m2 receptors were also enriched at glutamatergic synapses in both motoneuronal perikarya and dendrites. A relatively large proportion (20–30%) of plasma membrane–associated m2 receptors were located at glutamatergic synapses. In conclusion, the effect of acetylcholine on motoneuron populations might be mediated through a synaptic as well as diffuse type of transmission. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:2008–2024, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.