A cDNA clone encoding the complete sequence of an active rat choline acetyltransferase (ChoAcTase; acetyl-CoA:choline O-acetyltransferase, EC 188.8.131.52) has been isolated. Analysis of the deduced amino acid sequence reveals 85% and 31% identity with the porcine and Drosophila melanogaster enzymes, respectively. To further elucidate the molecular basis of neurotransmitter-related phenotypic plasticity, the expression of ChoAcTase mRNA was compared with that of tyrosine hydroxylase [TH; tyrosine 3-monooxygenase, L-tyrosine, tetrahydropteridine:oxygen oxidoreductase (3-hydroxylating), EC 184.108.40.206], in neurons from superior cervical ganglia grown in the following conditions: 1) normal medium, 2) high K+ medium, and 3) normal medium supplemented with 50% muscle-conditioned medium (CM). TH mRNA was expressed in all three media; its level rose in high K+ and decreased strikingly in the presence of CM. ChoAcTase mRNA could be visualized in CM, but fell to undetectable levels in normal and high K+ media. These results suggest that translational or post-translational mechanisms do not play a major role for the modulation of neurotransmitter-associated phenotype.