Many studies on the cholinergic pathway have indicated that cholinergic receptors, which are widely expressed in various cells, play an important role in all body organs. In this review, we present the concept that cholinergic responses are regulated through a neuronal or non-neuronal mechanism. The neuronal mechanism is a system in which acetylcholine binds to cholinergic receptors on target cells through the nerves. In the non-neuronal mechanism, acetylcholine, produced by neighboring cells in an autocrine/paracrine manner, binds to cholinergic receptors on target cells. Both mechanisms subsequently lead to physiological and pathophysiological responses. We also investigated the subunits/subtypes of cholinergic receptors on target cells, physiological and pathophysiological responses of the organs via cholinergic receptors, and extracellular factors that alter the subtypes/subunits of cholinergic receptors. Collectively, this concept will elucidate how cholinergic responses occur and will help us conduct further experiments to develop new therapeutic agents.
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