Alzheimer's disease is, in part, characterised by the loss of neurones in the basal forebrain cholinergic cells that project to the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. These impairments have correlated with the memory loss noted in dementia of the Alzheimer's type. This 'cholinergic hypothesis' has led to the rational design of drugs to enhance or stimulate acetylcholine-mediated neurotransmission. Early acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, such as tacrine and physostigmine, are poorly tolerated and have a short duration of action. Rivastigmine is a centrally-selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor with a relatively long duration of action and is a 'pseudo-irreversible' cholinesterase inhibitor due to slow dissociation of a carbamoyl derivative from the esteratic site of acetylcholinesterase. Preclinical studies confirmed the central selectivity of the drug and its distribution into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Early studies demonstrated that rivastigmine improved cognition and was relatively well-tolerated at moderate doses. Clinical investigations of rivastigmine administered at doses of 6 - 12 mg/day significantly improved cognition, as measured by the ADAS-Cog score, and activities of daily living, as measured by the Progressive Deterioration Scale. Significant global improvements were also noted as measured by the Clinician's Interview Based Impression of Change that required the use of caregiver information. The most frequent adverse effects noted in clinical trials were consistent with peripheral cholinergic stimulation and included nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness and diarrhoea. These effects were dose-related and minimised by slow dose-escalation upon initiation of therapy. Rivastigmine undergoes minimal metabolism by the cytochrome P450 system. As a result, it has few drug interactions. The drug is currently marketed widely in over 60 countries worldwide. In the United States, the drug received 'approvable' status subsequent to the NDA filing, and should be available later this year.