Wilson, Irwin B. Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.
Last reviewed:August 2019
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A naturally occurring quaternary ammonium cation ester, with the formula CH3(O)COC2H4N(CH3)3+, which plays a prominent role in nervous system function as a neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine (Fig. 1) is an organic compound released from certain autonomic nerve endings and acts in the transmission of nerve impulses to excitable membranes. The great importance of acetylcholine derives from its role in physiology as a neurotransmitter for cholinergic neurons (nerves), which innervate many tissues, including smooth muscle, skeletal muscle, the heart, ganglia, and glands. The effect of stimulating a cholinergic nerve, for example, the contraction of skeletal muscle or the slowing of the heartbeat, results from the release of acetylcholine from the nerve endings. Other types of nerves release other transmitters, for example, norepinephrine. See also: Nerve; Nervous system (vertebrate); Neurobiology; Neuron; Synaptic transmission
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