Acetylcholine (ACh) plays a critical role in cognition, and decreased cholinergic input to the cerebral cortex contributes to the cognitive deficits observed in Alzheimer's disease, dementia with Lewy Bodies, Parkinson's dementia, and other neurological diseases. However, a lack of knowledge regarding the pharmacology of cholinergic effects, or the mechanisms by which ACh influences neuronal activity, have hampered the development of therapies specific to these debilitating diseases. The data that do exist appear conflicting, and have been difficult to reconcile. Indeed, ACh paradoxically generates two opposing responses in the deep-layer pyramidal neurons that provide the majority of cortical output: a fast transient inhibition and a longer-lasting excitation. Although the mechanisms mediating inhibitory cholinergic responses in these neurons (M1-like muscarinic acetylcholine receptor activation, calcium- release from intracellular calcium stores, and subsequent activation of an SK-type calcium-activated potassium conductance) have been well described, the mechanisms mediating cholinergic excitation, and the functional relationship between excitatory and inhibitory cholinergic signaling, remain unknown. This project aims to determine the receptor subtypes, signaling cascades, and ionic mechanisms responsible for cholinergic excitation in cortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons, and to test the overarching hypothesis that excitatory actions of ACh reflect activation of a calcium-permeable non-selective cationic conductance that acts functionally to replenish the intracellular calcium stores that gate inhibitory cholinergic signaling. We propose to use electrophysiological and imaging approaches in a brain slice preparation to address the following three specific aims: 1. To identify the specific muscarinic receptor(s) mediating cholinergic excitation and inhibition in neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons. 2. To determine the signaling cascades and ionic mechanism responsible for cholinergic excitation of layer 5 neurons. 3. To test the unifying hypothesis that excitatory cholinergic conductances serve functionally to refill intracellular calcium stores depleted during inhibitory cholinergic signaling. Our results will provide a framework for understanding the biological basis for cholinergic facilitation of cognitive function. This new knowledge will increase our understanding of why dysfunction of cholinergic systems leads to the functional deficits observed in dementia and other disease states, and will provide new targets for therapeutic intervention. The Public Health Relevance: Acetylcholine is a brain chemical necessary for normal cognitive function, and loss of acetylcholine is associated with Alzheimer's disease and other disease states. This project will determine the biological mechanisms by which acetylcholine influences the activity of neurons in the normal cerebral cortex, with the aim of understanding why loss of acetylcholine during aging or disease leads to cognitive dysfunction.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS)
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Nadler, Laurie S
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Dartmouth College
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Dasari, Sameera; Hill, Corey; Gulledge, Allan T (2017) A unifying hypothesis for M1 muscarinic receptor signalling in pyramidal neurons. J Physiol 595:1711-1723
Gulledge, Allan T; Dasari, Sameera; Onoue, Keita et al. (2013) A sodium-pump-mediated afterhyperpolarization in pyramidal neurons. J Neurosci 33:13025-41
Avesar, Daniel; Gulledge, Allan T (2012) Selective serotonergic excitation of callosal projection neurons. Front Neural Circuits 6:12
Gulledge, Allan T; Carnevale, Nicholas T; Stuart, Greg J (2012) Electrical advantages of dendritic spines. PLoS One 7:e36007
Dasari, Sameera; Gulledge, Allan T (2011) M1 and M4 receptors modulate hippocampal pyramidal neurons. J Neurophysiol 105:779-92
Puig, M Victoria; Gulledge, Allan T (2011) Serotonin and prefrontal cortex function: neurons, networks, and circuits. Mol Neurobiol 44:449-64
Gulledge, Allan T; Bucci, David J; Zhang, Sunny S et al. (2009) M1 receptors mediate cholinergic modulation of excitability in neocortical pyramidal neurons. J Neurosci 29:9888-902