1. This review has two aims: first, to marshal and discuss evidences demonstrating an interaction between nootropic drugs and brain cholinergic mechanisms; second, to define the relationship between the effects on cholinergic mechanisms and the cognitive process. 2. Direct or indirect evidences indicating an activation of cholinergic mechanisms exist for pyrrolidinone derivatives including piracetam, oxiracetam, aniracetam, pyroglutamic acid, tenilsetam and pramiracetam and for miscellaneous chemical structures such as vinpocetine, naloxone, ebiratide and phosphatidylserine. All these drugs prevent or revert scopolamine-induced disruption of several learning and memory paradigms in animal and man. 3. Some of the pyrrolidinone derivatives also prevent amnesia associated with inhibition of acetylcholine synthesis brought about by hemicholinium. Oxiracetam prevents the decrease in brain acetylcholine and amnesia caused by electroconvulsive shock. Oxiracetam, aniracetam and pyroglutamic acid prevent brain acetylcholine decrease and amnesia induced by scopolamine. Comparable bell-shaped dose-effect relationships result for both actions. Phosphatidylserine restores acetylcholine synthesis and conditioned responses in aging rats. 4. The mechanisms through which the action on cholinergic systems might take place, including stimulation of the high affinity choline uptake, are discussed. The information available are not yet sufficient to define at which steps of the cognitive process the action on cholinergic system plays a role and which are the influences of the changes in cholinergic function on other neurochemical mechanisms of learning and memory.