Muscarinic synaptic activation is known to be involved in cortical arousal as well as learning. Although simple increases in the electrical responsiveness of neurons might be the basis of arousal, the linkage of muscarinic transmission to the synaptic plasticity that might underlie learning is lacking. Most models of synaptic plasticity involve postsynaptic Ca2+ changes as a trigger for subsequent processes. We imaged muscarinic effects on free Ca2+ accumulation during intracellular recordings from CA3 pyramidal neurons in the guinea pig hippocampal slice. Muscarinic activation, either by repetitive stimulation of cholinergic fibers or by bath-applied carbachol, strongly increased intradendritic Ca2+ accumulation during directly evoked repetitive firing, in part by blocking a Ca(2+)-dependent K+ conductance. The effects of repetitive stimulation of cholinergic fibers were enhanced by the acetylcholine-esterase blocker eserine and blocked by the muscarinic antagonist atropine. These findings demonstrate a novel muscarinic reinforcement of Ca2+ changes during excitation, which are probably significant for synapse modification.