Nicotinic systems play an important role in the neural basis of working memory and attention. Recent progress in understanding of the structure, function, and distribution of central nervous system (CNS) nicotinic receptors and their pharmacology has opened up new possibilities for novel CNS therapeutics with nicotinic agents. In this paper, we review the theoretical justification and the experimental evidence supporting these developments. We focus on the applications of nicotinic agonists in CNS disorders that are degenerative in nature, namely Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. We suggest that there is considerable potential for therapeutic applications in the near future. Clinically, two major issues remain: (a) the selectivity of effects, that is, developing compounds which are selective in producing improvement in cognition, motor function, attention, or pain without significant side-effects; and (b) the realistic likelihood of long-term improvements in everyday functioning in people who have degenerative diseases.