Acetylcholine synthesis and possible functions during sea urchin development

  • C Angelini |
  • B Baccetti
  • P Piomboni
  • S Trombino
  • MG Aluigi
  • S Stringara
  • L Gallus
  • C Falugi


Cholinergic neurotransmitter system molecules were found to play a role during fertilisation and early cell cycles of a large number of invertebrate and vertebrate organisms. In this study, we investigated the presence and possible function of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT, the biosynthetic enzyme of acetylcholine) in gametes of the sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus, through localisation and functional studies. ChAT-like molecules were detected in oocytes, mature eggs and zygotes with indirect immunofluorescence methods. Positive immunoreactivity was found in the ovarian egg cytoplasm and surface as well as at the zygote surface. This suggests the eggs' capacity to autonomously synthesise acetylcholine (ACh), the signal molecule of the cholinergic system. Acetylcholinesterase (AChE, the lytic enzyme of acetylcholine) was also found in ovarian eggs, with a similar distribution; however, it disappeared after fertilisation. Ultrastructural ChAT localisation in sperms, which was carried out with the immuno-gold method, showed immunoreactivity in the acrosome of unreacted sperms and at the head surface of reacted sperms. In order to verify a functional role of ACh during fertilization and sea urchin development, in vivo experiments were performed. Exposure of the eggs before fertilisation to 1 mM ACh + 1 ?M eserine caused an incomplete membrane depolarisation and consequently enhanced polyspermy, while lower concentrations of ACh caused developmental anomalies. The exposure of zygotes to 0,045 AChE Units/mL of sea water caused developmental anomalies as well, in 50% of the embryos. Altogether, these findings and other previously obtained results, suggest that the cholinergic system may subserve two different tasks during development, according to which particular type of ACh receptor is active during each temporal window. The first function, taking place in the course of fertilisation is a result of autonomously synthesised ACh in sperms, while the second function, taking place after fertilisation, is due to maternal ChAT molecules, assembled on the oolemma along with egg maturation and fertilisation processes.


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How to Cite
Angelini, C., Baccetti, B., Piomboni, P., Trombino, S., Aluigi, M., Stringara, S., Gallus, L., & Falugi, C. (2009). Acetylcholine synthesis and possible functions during sea urchin development. European Journal of Histochemistry, 48(3), 235-244.

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