Nicotinic antagonists enhance process outgrowth by rat retinal ganglion cells in culture

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Science  11 Mar 1988:
Vol. 239, Issue 4845, pp. 1293-1296
DOI: 10.1126/science.3344435


Functional nicotinic cholinergic receptors are found on mammalian retinal ganglion cell neurons in culture. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) can be detected in the medium of many of these retinal cultures, after release presumably from the choline acetyltransferase-positive amacrine cells. The postsynaptic effect of endogenous or applied ACh on the ganglion cells can be blocked with specific nicotinic antagonists. Here it is shown that within 24 hours of producing such a pharmacologic blockade, the retinal ganglion cells begin to sprout or regenerate neuronal processes. Thus, the growth-enhancing effect of nicotinic antagonists may be due to the removal of inhibition to growth by tonic levels of ACh present in the culture medium. Since there is a spontaneous leak of ACh in the intact retina, the effects of nicotinic cholinergic drugs on process outgrowth in culture may reflect a normal control mechanism for growth or regeneration of retinal ganglion cell processes that is exerted by ACh in vivo.