Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors in the brain are more commonly associated with modulatory events than mediation of synaptic transmission. nACh receptors have a high permeability for Ca(2+), and Ca(2+) signals are pivotal in shaping nACh receptor-mediated neuromodulatory effects. In this review, we consider the mechanisms through which nACh receptors convert rapid ionic signals into sustained, wide-ranging phenomena. The complex Ca(2+) responses that are generated after activation of nACh receptors can transmit information beyond the initial domain and facilitate the interface with many intracellular processes. These mechanisms underlie the diverse repertoire of neuronal activities of nicotine in the brain, from the enhancement of learning and memory, to addiction and neuroprotection.