The effects of L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha-GPC) on scopolamine-induced memory impairment and on brain acetylcholine (ACh) synthesis and release were investigated in rats. Oral administration of alpha-GPC 3 h before the behavioural test prevented the learning impairment induced by scopolamine given 30 min before the acquisition of a passive avoidance response. Similarly, retrograde amnesia induced by scopolamine, given immediately after acquisition training, was also completely reversed by the drug. These effects were dose-dependent with a maximum at 300 mg/kg. The mechanism of action of this compound was investigated by measuring hippocampal ACh synthesis and release both in vivo by means of the microdialysis technique and in vitro in tissue slices. alpha-GPC dose dependently increased ACh release with a maximum at 300 mg/kg. In addition, i.v. injection of [14C]alpha-GPC resulted in [14C]ACh formation. The data suggest that the behavioural effects of alpha-GPC may be related to its property to increase hippocampal ACh synthesis and release.