The distribution of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) molecular forms and their solubility characteristics were examined, using density gradient centrifugation, in various regions of the postmortem human CNS. Total AChE activity varied extensively (50-fold) among the regions investigated, being highest in the telencephalic subcortical structures (caudate nucleus and nucleus of Meynert); intermediate in the substantia nigra, cerebellum, and spinal cord; and least in the fornix and cortical regions (hippocampus and temporal and parietal cortex). Total BChE activity was, in contrast, much more evenly distributed, with only a threefold variation between the regions studied. Although the patterns of molecular forms of each enzyme were broadly similar among the different areas, regional variations in the distribution and abundance of the various forms of AChE were much greater than those of BChE. Thus, although the tetrameric G4 form of AChE constituted the majority of the total AChE activity in all regions examined, the ratio of the G4 form to the monomeric G1 form, the latter of which constituted the majority of the remaining activity, varied markedly, ranging from 21 in the caudate nucleus to 1.7 in the temporal cortex. In addition to the G4 and G1 forms of AChE, the dimeric G2 form was observed in the nucleus of Meynert and a fast-sedimenting (16S) species was found in samples of both the parietal cortex and spinal cord. In contrast, the G4 and G1 forms of BChE were the only molecular species observed in the different areas and the G4:G1 ratio varied from 3.3 in the substantia nigra to 0.9 in the temporal cortex. Regarding the solubility characteristics of the individual AChE and BChE molecular forms, the majority of the G4 form of AChE was extractable only in the presence of detergent, indicating a predominantly membrane-bound localization of this species. The smaller AChE forms (G1 and G2) and both the G1 and G4 forms of BChE were all relatively evenly distributed between soluble and membrane-bound species. These findings are discussed in relation to neurochemical and neuroanatomical, particularly cholinergic, features of the regions examined.