Nicotine and other nicotinic agonists have been found to improve performance on attention and memory tasks. Clinical studies using nicotine skin patches have demonstrated the efficacy of nicotine in treating cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Experimental animal studies have demonstrated the persistence of nicotine-induced working memory improvement with chronic exposure, in addition to the efficacy of a variety of nicotinic agonists. Mechanistic studies have found that alpha7 and alpha4beta2 nicotinic receptors in the hippocampus are critical for nicotinic involvement in cognitive function. Clinical and experimental animal studies provide mutually supporting information for the development of novel nicotinic therapies for cognitive dysfunction.