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acetylcholine

acetylcholine (əsētˌəlkōˈlēn) [key], a small organic molecule liberated at nerve endings as a neurotransmitter. It is particularly important in the stimulation of muscle tissue. The transmission of an impulse to the end of the nerve causes it to release neurotransmitter molecules onto the surface of the next cell, stimulating it. After such release, the acetylcholine is quickly broken into acetate and choline, which pass back to the first cell to be recycled into acetylcholine again. The poison curare acts by blocking the transmission of acetylcholine. Some nerve gases operate by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine causing continual stimulation of the receptor cells, which leads to intense spasms of the muscles, including the heart. Acetylcholine is often abbreviated as Ach. See nervous system.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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