Dysregulation of the cholinergic transmitter system is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease and contributes to an age-associated decline in memory performance. The current study examined the influence of carbachol, a cholinergic receptor agonist, on synaptic transmission over the course of aging. Extracellular excitatory postsynaptic field potentials were recorded from CA3-CA1 synapses in acute hippocampal slices obtained from young adult (5-8 mo) and aged (22-24 mo) male Fischer 344 rats. Bath application of carbachol elicited a transient depression of synaptic transmission, which was followed by a long-lasting depression (CCh-LTD) observed 90 min after carbachol cessation in both age groups. However, the magnitude of CCh-LTD was significantly larger in senescent animals and was attenuated by N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor blockade in aged animals. Blockade of L-type Ca(2+) channels inhibited CCh-LTD to a greater extent in aged animals compared to young adults. Finally, the expression of CCh-LTD was dependent on protein synthesis. The results indicate that altered Ca(2+) homeostasis or muscarinic activation of Ca(2+) signaling contribute to the enhanced CCh-LTD during senescence.