Acetylcholine, the first chemical to be identified as a neurotransmitter, is packed in synaptic vesicles by the activity of VAChT (vesicular acetylcholine transporter). A decrease in VAChT expression has been reported in a number of diseases, and this has consequences for the amount of acetylcholine loaded in synaptic vesicles as well as for neurotransmitter release. Several genetically modified mice targeting the VAChT gene have been generated, providing novel models to understand how changes in VAChT affect transmitter release. A surprising finding is that most cholinergic neurons in the brain also can express a second type of vesicular neurotransmitter transporter that allows these neurons to secrete two distinct neurotransmitters. Thus a given neuron can use two neurotransmitters to regulate different physiological functions. In addition, recent data indicate that non-neuronal cells can also express the machinery used to synthesize and release acetylcholine. Some of these cells rely on VAChT to secrete acetylcholine with potential physiological consequences in the periphery. Hence novel functions for the oldest neurotransmitter known are emerging with the potential to provide new targets for the treatment of several pathological conditions.

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