Acetylcholine release stimulated by nicotinic agonists was measured as radioactivity released from perfused synaptosomes prepared from mouse interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) that had been loaded with [(3)H]choline. Agonist-stimulated release was dependent upon external calcium and over 90% of released radioactivity was acetylcholine. The release process was characterized by dose response curves for 13 agonists and inhibition curves for six antagonists. alpha-Conotoxin MII did not inhibit this release, while alpha-conotoxin AuIB inhibited 50% of agonist-stimulated release. Comparison of this process with [(3)H]dopamine release from mouse striatal synaptosomes indicated that different forms of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may mediate these processes. This was confirmed by assays using mice homozygous for the beta 2 subunit null mutation. The deletion of the beta 2 subunit had no effect on agonist-stimulated acetylcholine release, but abolished agonist-stimulated release of dopamine from striatal synaptosomes. Mice heterozygous for the beta 2 subunit null mutation showed decreased dopamine release evoked by L-nicotine with no apparent change in EC(50) value, as well as similar decreases in both transient and persistent phases of release with no changes in desensitization rates.