Cholinergic Leukocytes in Sepsis and at the Neuroimmune Junction in the Spleen

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The spleen is a key participant in the pathophysiology of sepsis and inflammatory disease. Many splenocytes exhibit a cholinergic phenotype, but our knowledge regarding their cholinergic biology and how they are affected by sepsis is incomplete. We evaluated effects of acute sepsis on the spleen using the cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) model in C57BL/6 and ChATBAC-eGFP mice. Quantification of cholinergic gene expression showed that choline acetyltransferase and vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) are present and that VAChT is upregulated in sepsis, suggesting increased capacity for release of acetylcholine (ACh). High affinity choline transporter is not expressed but organic acid transporters are, providing additional mechanisms for release. Flow cytometry studies identified subpopulations of cholinergic T and B cells as well as monocytes/macrophages. Neither abundance nor GFP intensity of cholinergic T cells changed in sepsis, suggesting that ACh synthetic capacity was not altered. Spleens have low acetylcholinesterase activity, and the enzyme is localized primarily in red pulp, characteristics expected to favor cholinergic signaling. For cellular studies, ACh was quantified by mass spectroscopy using d4-ACh internal standard. Isolated splenocytes from male mice contain more ACh than females, suggesting the potential for gender-dependent differences in cholinergic immune function. Isolated splenocytes exhibit basal ACh release, which can be increased by isoproterenol (4 and 24 h) or by T cell activation with antibodies to CD3 and CD28 (24 h). Collectively, these data support the concept that sepsis enhances cholinergic function in the spleen and that release of ACh can be triggered by stimuli via different mechanisms.