Metabolically stable and centrally acting thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) analogues were designed by replacing the central histidine with substituted pyridinium moieties. Their analeptic and acetylcholine-releasing actions were evaluated to assess their potency as central nervous system (CNS) agents. A strong experimental connection between these two CNS-mediated actions of the TRH analogues was obtained in subject animals. The analogue 3-(aminocarbonyl)-1-(3-[2-(aminocarbonyl)pyrrolidin-1-yl]-3-oxo-2-[[(5-oxopyrrolidin-2-yl)carbonyl]amino]propyl)pyridinium (1a) showed the highest (TRH-equivalent) potency and longest, dose-dependent duration of action from a series of homologous compounds in antagonizing pentobarbital-induced narcosis when administered intravenously in its CNS-permeable prodrug form (2a) obtained via reduction of the pyridinium moiety to the nonionic dihydropyridine. The maximum change in hippocampal acetylcholine concentration upon perfusion of the pyridinium-containing tripeptides into the hippocampus of rats was also achieved with 1a. No binding to the endocrine TRH receptor was measured for the TRH analogues reported here; therefore, our design afforded a novel lead for centrally acting TRH analogues. We have also demonstrated the benefits of the prodrug approach on the pharmacokinetics and brain uptake/retention of pyridinium-containing TRH analogues (measured by in vivo microdialysis sampling) upon systemic administration.