The potential of stem cells in regenerative medicine, developmental biology, and drug discovery has
been well documented. For example, stem cells have the extraordinary ability of self-renewal, and also give
rise to many specialized cells. It is clear that stem cell technology has revolutionized our understanding of
modern biology and medicine and provided new insights into the mechanisms controlling basic cell biology and
various diseases. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are prototypical members of the ligand-gated ion
channel super family of neurotransmitter receptors that play many critical roles in brain and body function. It
has been demonstrated that in addition to mediation of classical excitatory neurotransmission at some loci and
modulation of release of neurotransmitters in some cases, nAChRs also play important roles in influencing
synaptic architecture and plasticity as well as neuronal survival/death. Recently, emerging lines of evidence
have suggested that nAChRs express on stem cells, where they likely mediate crucial effects of cholinergic
signaling on stem cell survival/apoptosis, proliferation, differentiation and maturation. In this review, we
summarize current development in cholinergic modulations of stem cell survival/apoptosis, proliferation and
differentiation in order to evaluate the impact of nAChRs in stem cell biology and pathology.
Keywords: Cholinergic signaling, differentiation, nicotine, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, progenitor cell,
proliferation, stem cell, survival/apoptosis.
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