, Volume 296, Issue 2, pp 293-305

Cholinergic neurons of the pelvic autonomic ganglia and uterus of the female rat: distribution of axons and presence of muscarinic receptors

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Acetylcholine (ACh) stimulates contraction of the uterus and dilates the uterine arterial supply. Uterine cholinergic nerves arise from the paracervical ganglia and were, in the past, characterized based on acetylcholinesterase (AChE) histochemistry. However, the histochemical reaction for acetylcholinesterase provides only indirect evidence of acetylcholine location and is a nonspecific marker for cholinergic nerves. The present study: (1) reevaluated cholinergic neurons of the paracervical ganglia, (2) examined the cholinergic innervation of the uterus by using retrograde axonal tracing and antibodies against molecules specific to cholinergic neurons, choline acetyltransferase and the vesicular acetylcholine transporter, and (3) examined muscarinic receptors in the paracervical ganglia using autoradiography and a radiolabeled agonist. Most ganglionic neurons were choline acetyltransferase- and vesicular acetylcholine transporter-immunoreactive and were apposed by choline acetyltransferase/vesicular acetylcholine transporter-immunoreactive terminals. Retrograde tracing showed that some cholinergic neurons projected axons to the uterus. These nerves formed moderately dense plexuses in the myometrium, cervical smooth muscle and microarterial system of the uterine horns and cervix. Finally, the paracervical ganglia contain muscarinic receptors. These results clearly reveal the cholinergic innervation of the uterus and cervix, a source of these nerves, and demonstrate the muscarinic receptor content of the paracervical ganglia. Cholinergic nerves could play significant roles in the control of uterine myometrium and vasculature.

Received: 14 July 1998 / Accepted: 2 December 1998