- Cholinesterase inhibitors (anti-ChEs) include a wide range of therapeutic, agricultural and warfare agents all aimed to inhibit the catalytic activity of the acetylcholine (ACh) hydrolysing enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE). In addition to promoting immediate excitation of cholinergic neurotransmission through transient elevation of synaptic ACh levels, anti-ChEs exposure is associated with long-term effects reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder. This suggested that exposure to anti-ChEs leads to persistent changes in brain proteins and called for exploring the mechanism(s) through which such changes could occur. For this purpose, we established an in vitro system of perfused, sagittal mouse brain slices which sustains authentic transcriptional responses for over 10 h and enables the study of gene regulation under controlled exposure to anti-ChEs. Slices were exposed to either organophosphate or cabamate anti-ChEs, both of which induced within 10 min excessive overexpression of the mRNA encoding the immediate early response transcription factor c-Fos. Twenty minutes later we noted 8-fold increases over control levels in AChE mRNA, accompanied by a 3-fold decrease in the mRNAs encoding for the ACh synthesizing enzyme choline acetyltranferase (ChAT) and the vesicular ACh transporter (VAChT). No changes were detected in synaptophysin mRNA levels. These modulations in gene expression paralleled those taking place under in vivo exposure. Of particular concern is the possibility that feedback processes leading to elevated levels of brain AChE may be similarly associated with low-level exposure to common organophosphorous anti-cholinesterases, and lead to long-term deleterious changes in cognitive functions.