The role of the cholinergic innervation in the modulation of cingulate electrical activity was studied by means of pharmacological manipulations and brain lesions. In the normal rat, an irregular slow activity (ISA) accompanied with EEG-spikes was recorded in the cingulate cortex during immobility as compared to walking. Atropine sulfate, but not atropine methyl nitrate, increased ISA and the frequency of cingulate EEG-spikes. Pilocarpine suppressed ISA and EEG-spikes during immobility, and induced a slow (4-7 Hz) theta rhythm. Unilateral or bilateral lesions of the substantia innominata and ventral globus pallidus area using kainic acid did not significantly change the cingulate EEG or its relation to behavior. Large electrolytic lesions of the medial septal nuclei and vertical limbs of the diagonal band generally decreased or abolished all theta activity in the cingulate cortex and the hippocampus. However, in 5 rats the cingulate theta rhythm increased while the hippocampal theta disappeared after a medial septal lesion. The large, postlesion cingulate theta, accompanied by sharp EEG-spikes during its negative phase, is an unequivocal demonstration of the existence of a theta rhythm in the cingulate cortex, independent of the hippocampal rhythm. Cholinergic afferents from the medial septum and diagonal band nuclei are inferred to be responsible for the behavioral suppression of cingulate EEG-spikes and ISA, and partially for the generation of a local cingulate theta rhythm. However, an atropine-resistant pathway and a theta-suppressing pathway, possibly coming from the medial septum or the hippocampus, may also be important in cingulate theta generation.