Acetylcholine (ACh) is a neurotransmitter widely diffused in central, peripheral, autonomic and enteric nervous system. This paper has reviewed the main mechanisms of ACh synthesis, storage, and release. Presynaptic choline transport supports ACh production and release, and cholinergic terminals express a unique transporter critical for neurotransmitter release. Neurons cannot synthesize choline, which is ultimately derived from the diet and is delivered through the blood stream. ACh released from cholinergic synapses is hydrolyzed by acetylcholinesterase into choline and acetyl coenzyme A and almost 50% of choline derived from ACh hydrolysis is recovered by a high-affinity choline transporter. Parallel with the development of cholinergic hypothesis of geriatric memory dysfunction, cholinergic precursor loading strategy was tried for treating cognitive impairment occurring in Alzheimer's disease. Controlled clinical studies denied clinical usefulness of choline and lecithin (phosphatidylcholine), whereas for other phospholipids involved in choline biosynthetic pathways such as cytidine 5‘-diphosphocholine (CDP-choline) or alpha-glyceryl-phosphorylcholine (choline alphoscerate) a modest improvement of cognitive dysfunction in adult-onset dementia disorders is documented. These inconsistencies have probably a metabolic explanation. Free choline administration increases brain choline availability but it does not increase ACh synthesis/or release. Cholinergic precursors to serve for ACh biosynthesis should be incorporate and stored into phospholipids in brain. It is probable that appropriate ACh precursors and other correlated molecules (natural or synthesized) could represent a tool for developing therapeutic strategies by revisiting and updating treatments/supplementations coming out from this therapeutic stalemate.
Department of Experimental Medicine and Public Health, Via Madonna delle Carceri, I-62032 Camerino (MC), Italy.
Publication date: February 1, 2008
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