Acetylcholine and its metabolic enzymes in developing antennae of the moth, Manduca sexta

Joshua R. Sanes, John G. Hildebrand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Antennae of the moth, Manduca sexta, are thickly populated with sensory neurons, which send axons through antennal nerves to the brain. These neurons arise by cell divisions and differentiate synchronously during the 18 days of metamorphosis from pupa to adult. Biochemical studies support the hypothesis that antennal neurons use acetylcholine (ACh) as a neurotransmitter: (1) Antennae incubated with [14C]choline synthesize and store [14C]ACh; several other transmitter candidates do not accumulate detectably when appropriate radioactive precursors are supplied; (2) antennae and antennal nerves contain endogenous ACh; and (3) extracts of mature antennae contain choline acetyltransferase (ChAc) and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) with properties similar to those reported for the enzymes from other arthropods. Levels of ACh, ChAc, and AChE begin to increase in antennae soon after the sensory neurons are "born." Levels rise exponentially for over a week as the neurons differentiate and then reach a plateau, at about the time the neurons reach morphological maturity, that is maintained into adulthood. In contrast, levels of carnitine acetyltransferase, cholinesterase, and soluble protein, presumably not confined to nervous tissue, change little during metamorphosis. Levels of ACh, ChAc, and AChE rise in an intracranial segment of antennal nerve at about the same time as in the antenna, indicating that axons can transport neurotransmitter machinery at an early stage in their development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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