The effects of acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR), an acetyl derivative of L-carnitine, on memory and learning capacity and on brain synaptic functions of aged rats were examined. Male Fischer 344 rats were given ALCAR (100 mg/kg bodyweight) per os for 3 months and were subjected to the Hebb-Williams tasks and AKON-1 task to assess their learning capacity. Cholinergic activities were determined with synaptosomes isolated from brain cortices of the rats. Choline parameters, the high-affinity choline uptake, acetylcholine (ACh) synthesis and depolarization-evoked ACh release were all enhanced in the ALCAR group. An increment of depolarization-induced calcium ion influx into synaptosomes was also evident in rats given ALCAR. Electrophysiological studies using hippocampus slices indicated that the excitatory postsynaptic potential slope and population spike size were both increased in ALCAR-treated rats. These results indicate that ALCAR increases synaptic neurotransmission in the brain and consequently improves learning capacity in aging rats.