• acetylcholinesterase;
  • endocytosis;
  • cherniluminescence;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • guinea-pig


It is known that acetylcholinesterase is secreted by the dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra and has a subsequent action independent of cholinergic transmission. Although non-cholinergic actions of this protein have been demonstrated, the subsequent fate of acetylcholinesterase is unknown. One possibility is that acetylcholinesterase is taken up following secretion into the extracellular space. This hypothesis has been tested in vivo, in both conscious and anaesthetized guinea-pigs. Exogenous acetylcholinesterase (2–20 pM) was infused via a push-pull cannula implanted into either the substantia nigra or the surrounding extranigral regions; the amount subsequently recovered in the perfusate was then compared with control values. Only when the push-pull cannulae were implanted in the substantia nigra was there a marked decrease in the amount of acetylcholinesterase recovered; this selective retention was abolished when the perfusion medium was cooled to 4°C or when the experiment was performed post mortem. Direct visualization of immunocytochemically identified nigral dopaminergic cells revealed co-localized deposits of labelled, exogenous acetylcholinesterase. Moreover, when exogenous acetylcholinesterase was boiled to prevent detection by the assay system and to eliminate any classical enzymatic action, an enhancement in perfusate levels of endogenous acetylcholinesterase was observed from nigral but not from extranigral sites, indicating that endogenous and exogenous acetylcholinesterases were in competition. These results suggest that, within the substantia nigra, secreted acetylcholinesterase may be subject to a temperature- and energy-dependent uptake mechanism.