The effects of oral administration of the centrally acting acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors, donepezil hydrochloride (donepezil: E2020: (+/-)-2-[(1-benzylpiperidin-4-yl)methyl]-5,6-dimethoxy-indan-1-one monohydrochloride), tacrine (9-amino-1,2,3,4-tetrahydroacridine hydrochloride) and ENA-713 (rivastigmine: (S)-N-ethyl-3-[(1-dimethyl-amino)ethyl]-N-methyl-phenylcarbamate hydrogentartrate), which have been developed for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, on the extracellular acetylcholine concentration in the hippocampus of rats were evaluated by using a microdialysis technique without adding cholinesterase inhibitor to the perfusion solution. We also compared the inhibition of brain AChE and the brain concentrations of these drugs. Donepezil at 2.5 mg/kg and tacrine at 5 mg/kg showed significant effects for more than 6 h. At these doses, the maximum increases were observed at about 1.5 h after administration of donepezil, and at about 2 h with tacrine, and were 499% and 422% of the pre-level, respectively. ENA-713 produced significant effects at doses of 0.625, 1.25 and 2.5 mg/kg, which lasted for about 1, 2 and 4 h, respectively. The maximum increases produced by these doses at about 0.5 h after administration were 190, 346 and 458% of the pre-level, respectively. The time courses of brain AChE inhibition with donepezil at 2.5 mg/kg, tacrine at 10 mg/kg and ENA-713 at 2.5 mg/kg were mirror images of the extracellular acetylcholine-increasing action at the same doses. The time courses of the brain concentrations of drugs after oral administration of donepezil at 2.5 mg/kg and tacrine at 10 mg/kg were consistent with those of brain AChE inhibition at the same doses, and there was a linear relation between these parameters. Brain concentration of ENA-713 at 2.5 mg/kg was below the limit of quantification at all time points measured. These results suggest that oral administration of donepezil, tacrine and ENA-713 increases acetylcholine concentration in the synaptic cleft of the hippocampus mostly through AChE inhibition, and that donepezil has a more potent activity than tacrine and a longer-lasting effect than ENA-713 on the central cholinergic system.