1. The release of acetylcholine was investigated in the human placenta villus, a useful model for the characterization of the non-neuronal cholinergic system. 2. Quinine, an inhibitor of organic cation transporters (OCT), reduced acetylcholine release in a reversible and concentration-dependent manner with an IC(50) value of 5 microM. The maximal effect, inhibition by 99%, occurred at a concentration of 300 microM. 3. Procaine (100 microM), a sodium channel blocker, and vesamicol (10 microM), an inhibitor of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter, were ineffective. 4. Corticosterone, an inhibitor of OCT subtype 1, 2 and 3 reduced acetylcholine in a concentration-dependent manner with an IC(50) value of 2 microM. 5. Substrates of OCT subtype 1, 2 and 3 (amiloride, cimetidine, guanidine, noradrenaline, verapamil) inhibited acetylcholine release, whereas carnitine, a substrate of subtype OCTN2, exerted no effect. 6. Long term exposure (48 and 72 h) of villus strips to anti-sense oligonucleotides (5 microM) directed against transcription of OCT1 and OCT3 reduced the release of acetylcholine, whereas OCT2 anti-sense oliogonucleotides were ineffective. 7. It is concluded that the release of non-neuronal acetylcholine from the human placenta is mediated via organic cation transporters of the OCT1 and OCT3 subtype.