Acetylcholine modulation of neural systems involved in learning and memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2003 Nov;80(3):194-210. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2003.07.003.


Extensive evidence supports the view that cholinergic mechanisms modulate learning and memory formation. This paper reviews evidence for cholinergic regulation of multiple memory systems, noting that manipulations of cholinergic functions in many neural systems can enhance or impair memory for tasks generally associated with those neural systems. While parallel memory systems can be identified by combining lesions with carefully crafted tasks, most-if not all-tasks require the combinatorial participation of multiple neural systems. This paper offers the hypothesis that the magnitude of acetylcholine (ACh) release in different neural systems may regulate the relative contributions of these systems to learning. Recent studies of ACh release, obtained with in vivo microdialysis samples during training, together with direct injections of cholinergic drugs into different neural systems, provide evidence that release of ACh is important in engaging these systems during learning, and that the extent to which the systems are engaged is associated with individual differences in learning and memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Cholinergic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Cholinergic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / physiology*
  • Septum Pellucidum / metabolism*
  • Space Perception / physiology


  • Cholinergic Agonists
  • Receptors, Cholinergic