Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is a most remarkable protein, not only because it is one of the fastest enzymes in nature, but also since it appears in many molecular forms and is regulated by elaborate genetic networks. As revealed by sensitive histochemical procedures, AChE is expressed specifically in many tissues during development and in many mature organisms, as well as in healthy and diseased states. Therefore it is not surprising that there has been a long-standing search for additional, “non-classical” functions of cholinesterases (ChEs). In principle, AChE could either act nonenzymatically, e.g. exerting cell adhesive roles, or, alternatively, it could work within the frame of classic cholinergic systems, but in non-neural tissues. AChE might be considered a highly co-opting protein, since possibly it combines such various functions within one molecule. By presenting four different developmental cases, we here review i) the expression of ChEs in the neural tube and their close relation to cell proliferation and differentiation, ii) that AChE expression reflects a polycentric brain development, iii) the retina as a model for AChE functioning in neural network formation, and iv) nonneural ChEs in limb development and mature bones. Also, possible roles of AChE in neuritic growth and of cholinergic regulations in stem cells are briefly outlined.
Keywords: Acetylcholine signaling, alternative splicing, anti-inflammatory pathway, cartilage development, bone development, ossification, One gene-one protein-one function, Acetylcholinesterase (AChE, EC 126.96.36.199), adhesive mechanisms, morphogenesis