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Keywords:

  • alternative splicing;
  • antisense;
  • cholinergic;
  • cytoskeleton;
  • dementia;
  • hematopoiesis;
  • homology;
  • neurexin;
  • osteogenesis;
  • stress

Apart from its catalytic function in hydrolyzing acetylcholine, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) affects cell proliferation, differentiation and responses to various insults, including stress. These responses are at least in part specific to the three C-terminal variants of AChE which are produced by alternative splicing of the single ACHE gene. ‘Synaptic’ AChE-S constitutes the principal multimeric enzyme in brain and muscle; soluble, monomeric ‘readthrough’ AChE-R appears in embryonic and tumor cells and is induced under psychological, chemical and physical stress; and glypiated dimers of erythrocytic AChE-E associate with red blood cell membranes. We postulate that the homology of AChE to the cell adhesion proteins, gliotactin, glutactin and the neurexins, which have more established functions in nervous system development, is the basis of its morphogenic functions. Competition between AChE variants and their homologs on interactions with the corresponding protein partners would inevitably modify cellular signaling. This can explain why AChE-S exerts process extension from cultured amphibian, avian and mammalian glia and neurons in a manner that is C-terminus-dependent, refractory to several active site inhibitors and, in certain cases, redundant to the function of AChE-like proteins. Structural functions of AChE variants can explain their proliferative and developmental roles in blood, bone, retinal and neuronal cells. Moreover, the association of AChE excess with amyloid plaques in the degenerating human brain and with progressive cognitive and neuromotor deficiencies observed in AChE-transgenic animal models most likely reflects the combined contributions of catalytic and structural roles.