Neuromodulation can be thought of as a change in the state of a neuron or group of neurons that alters its response to subsequent stimulation. A number of models have been proposed to explain the actions of ACh in the central nervous system (CNS). For example, ACh has been suggested to be critical for the response to uncertainty, such that an increase in cholinergic tone predicts the unreliability of predictive cues in a known context and improves the signal-to-noise
ratio in a learning environment (Yu and Dayan, 2005). Another model has suggested that ACh reinforces neuronal loops and cortical dynamics during learning by enhancing the influence of feed-forward afferent inputs to the cortex BGB324 carrying sensory information and decreasing excitatory feedback activity mediating retrieval (Hasselmo, 2006). ACh can also alter firing of neurons on a rapid time scale, as in fear-conditioning, when foot-shock results in direct cholinergic activation of interneurons in the auditory cortex that contribute to learning (Letzkus et al., 2011). All these models are consistent with a primary role of ACh as a neuromodulator that changes the state of an ensemble of neurons in response to changing environmental conditions. In this review, we will provide further support for the idea that cholinergic neurotransmission in the brain
is primarily neuromodulatory and is categorically distinct from the actions of ACh at the neuromuscular junction. We propose that the role of buy RAD001 ACh as a neuromodulator in the brain is to increase neurotransmitter release in response to other inputs, to promote burst firing, and/or suppress tonic firing, depending upon the system and the neuronal
subtypes stimulated. Further, ACh contributes to synaptic plasticity in many brain areas. The two primary sources of ACh in the brain include projection neurons that innervate distal areas and local interneurons that are interspersed among their cellular targets. Cholinergic projection neurons are found in nuclei throughout the brain, the such as the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental areas (PPTg and LDTg), the medial habenula (MHb) (Ren et al., 2011), and the basal forebrain (BF) complex (Mesulam, 1995; Zaborszky, 2002; Zaborszky et al., 2008), including the medial septum. These cholinergic neurons project widely and diffusely, innervating neurons throughout the CNS. Cholinergic interneurons are typified by the tonically active ACh neurons of the striatum and nucleus accumbens, and there is some indication from anatomical studies that cholinergic interneurons are present in the rodent and human neocortex, but not the nonhuman primate cortex (Benagiano et al., 2003; Mesulam, 1995; von Engelhardt et al., 2007).