The cholinergic agonists acetylcholine (ACh), nicotine, and pilocarpine produced depolarizations and contractions of muscle of the nematode Ascaris suum. Dose-dependent depolarization and contraction by ACh were suppressed by about two orders of magnitude by 100 microM d-tubocurarine (dTC), a nicotinic antagonist, but only about fivefold by 100 microM N-methyl-scopolamine (NMS), a muscarinic antagonist. NMS itself depolarized both normal and synaptically isolated muscle cells. The muscle depolarizing action of pilocarpine was not consistently antagonized by either NMS or dTC. ACh receptors were detected on motorneuron classes DE1, DE2, DI, and VI as ACh-induced reductions in input resistance. These input resistance changes were reversed by washing in drug-free saline or by application of dTC. NMS applied alone lowered input resistance in DE1, but not in DE2, DI, or VI motorneurons. In contrast to the effect of ACh, the action of NMS in DE1 was not reversed by dTC, suggesting that NMS-sensitive sites may not respond to ACh. Excitatory synaptic responses in muscle evoked by depolarizing current injections into DE1 and DE2 motorneurons were antagonized by dTC; however, NMS antagonized the synaptic output of only the DE1 and DE3 classes of motorneurons, an effect that was more likely to have been produced by motorneuron conduction failure than by pharmacological blockade of receptor. The concentration of NMS required to produce these changes in muscle polarization and contraction, ACh antagonism, input resistance reduction, and synaptic antagonism was 100 microM, or more than five orders of magnitude higher than the binding affinity for [3H]NMS in larval Ascaris homogenates and adult Caenorhabditis elegans (Segerberg, M. A. 1989. Ph.D. thesis. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI). These results describe a nicotinic-like pharmacology, but muscle and motorneurons also have unusual responses to muscarinic agents.

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