• muscarinic receptors;
  • oligodendrocytes;
  • proliferation;
  • survival;
  • myelin proteins


Acetylcholine (ACh) is a major neurotransmitter but also an important signaling molecule in neuron-glia interactions. Expression of ACh receptors has been reported in several glial cell populations, including oligodendrocytes (OLs). Nonetheless, the characterization of muscarinic receptors in these cells, as well as the description of the cholinergic effects at different stages of OL development, is still incomplete. In this study, we characterized the pattern of expression of muscarinic receptor subtypes in primary cultures of rat oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPC) and mature OLs, at both mRNA and protein levels. We found that muscarinic receptor expression is developmentally regulated. M1, M3, and M4 receptors were the main subtypes expressed in OPC, whereas all receptor subtypes were expressed at low levels in mature OLs. Exposure of OPC to muscarine enhanced cell proliferation, an effect mainly due to M1, M3, and M4 receptor subtypes as demonstrated by pharmacological competition with selective antagonists. Conversely, M2 receptor activation impaired OPC survival. In line with the mitogenic activity, muscarinic receptor activation increased the expression of platelet derived growth factor receptor α. Muscarine stimulation increased CX32 and myelin basic protein expression, left unaffected that of myelin proteolipid protein (PLP), and decreased member of the family of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) ErbB3/ErbB4 receptor expression indicating a predominant role of muscarinic receptors in OPC. These findings suggest that ACh may contribute to the maintenance of an immature proliferating progenitor pool and impair the progression toward mature stage. This hypothesis is further supported by increased expression of Notch-1 in OL on muscarinic activation. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Develop Neurobiol 72: 713–728, 2012