The cholinergic basal forebrain (CBF) degenerates in Alzheimer's Disease (AD), and the degree of this degeneration correlates with the degree of dementia. In the present study we have modeled this degeneration in the rat by injecting various doses of the highly selective immunotoxin 192 IgG-saporin (192-sap) into the ventricular system. The ability of 192-sap-treated rats to perform in a previously learned radial maze working memory task was then tested. We report here that 192-sap created lesions of the CBF and, to a lesser extent, cerebellar Purkinje cells in a dose-dependent fashion. Furthermore, we found that rats harboring lesions of the entire CBF greater than 75% had impaired spatial working memory in the radial maze. Correlational analysis of working memory impairment and lesion extent of the component parts of the CBF revealed that high-grade lesions of the hippocampal-projecting neurons of the CBF were not sufficient to impair working memory. Only rats with high-grade lesions of the hippocampal and cortical projecting neurons of the CBF had impaired working memory. These data are consistent with other 192-sap reports that found behavioral deficits only with high-grade CBF lesions and indicate that the relationship between CBF lesion extent and working memory impairment is a threshold relationship in which a high degree of neuronal loss can be tolerated without detectable consequences. Additionally, the data suggest that the CBF modulates spatial working memory via its connections to both the hippocampus and cortex.