Certain antidepressant drugs exert an anxiolytic action in both humans and rodents. The effects of long-term treatment with imipramine or mirtazapine, two antidepressant drugs with different mechanisms of action, on the response of cortical cholinergic neurons to foot-shock stress or to the anxiogenic drug FG 7142 were investigated in freely moving rats. Chronic treatment with imipramine or mirtazapine reduced the increase in cortical acetylcholine output induced by foot-shock stress by approximately 50%. The same treatment also reduced the sensitivity of cortical cholinergic neurons to the stimulatory effect of acute administration of FG 7142. In contrast, the administration of a single dose of either antidepressant 40 min before foot shock or FG 7142 injection failed to increase the threshold of excitability of cortical cholinergic neurons. These results demonstrate that long-term treatment with either imipramine or mirtazapine reduces the sensitivity of cortical cholinergic neurons to stress or to an anxiogenic drug with an efficacy similar to that of acute administration of benzodiazepines. The neurochemical mechanism responsible for regulation of cholinergic neuron sensitivity might contribute to the modulation of cognitive function associated with emotional and affective disorders.