The histaminergic H2 antagonist, ranitidine, has also been found to significantly inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in vitro. In an effort to develop novel, nonquaternary AChE inhibitors capable of penetrating into the CNS and alleviating the cholinergic deficit characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, a series of bis[[(dimethylamino)methyl]furanyl] analogues of ranitidine has been synthesized. All compounds were evaluated for human erythrocyte AChE inhibitory activity and compared to ranitidine, physostigmine, and tetrahydro-9-aminoacridine (THA). The most active AChE inhibitors were N,N'-disubstituted derivatives of 2-nitro-1,1-ethenediamine and 4,6-dinitro-1,3-benzenediamine, with compound 8 demonstrating activity greater than physostigmine. Deletion of the diaminonitroethene group in a series of alkyl and aryl bis-thioethers, yielded a number of slightly less active compounds, comparable in potency to THA. The 13 most active AChE inhibitors all demonstrated a more selective inhibition of AChE, as opposed to butyrylcholinesterase inhibition, than did THA. Compounds 3 and 22 were equally active to THA in potentiating rat ileal contractions. Binding studies demonstrated M1 and M2 cholinergic receptor affinities slightly greater than or equal to THA. Differential receptor binding studies showed compound 12 resembled THA in agonist/antagonist activity. Compounds 11-13 significantly elevated mouse brain acetylcholine levels, when administered at 80% of their approximate lethal doses, but were less active than THA or physostigmine.