Striatal Acetylcholine Helps to Preserve Functional Outcomes in a Mouse Model of Stroke
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Acetylcholine (ACh) has been suggested to facilitate plasticity and improve functional recovery after different types of brain lesions. Interestingly, numerous studies have shown that striatal cholinergic interneurons are relatively resistant to acute ischemic insults, but whether ACh released by these neurons enhances functional recovery after stroke is unknown. We investigated the role of endogenous striatal ACh in stroke lesion volume and functional outcomes following middle cerebral artery occlusion to induce focal ischemia in striatum-selective vesicular acetylcholine transporter-deficient mice (stVAChT-KO). As transporter expression is almost completely eliminated in the striatum of stVAChT-KO mice, ACh release is nearly abolished in this area. Conversely, in other brain areas, VAChT expression and ACh release are preserved. Our results demonstrate a larger infarct size after ischemic insult in stVAChT-KO mice, with more pronounced functional impairments and increased mortality than in littermate controls. These changes are associated with increased activation of GSK-3, decreased levels of β-catenin, and a higher permeability of the blood–brain barrier in mice with loss of VAChT in striatum neurons. These results support a framework in which endogenous ACh secretion originating from cholinergic interneurons in the striatum helps to protect brain tissue against ischemia-induced damage and facilitates brain recovery by supporting blood–brain barrier function.