To provide a more specific test of memory impairments following lesions to central cholinergic systems, rats were trained on an operant delayed matching task. Ibotenic acid lesions of the nucleus basalis produced a disruption of performance at all delay intervals (a parallel downward shift in the delay-performance curve). By contrast, fimbria-fornix transections had no effects at short delays, but produced a progressively greater impairment as the delays lengthened (an increased downward slope of the delay-performance curve). Scopolamine produced a dose-dependent disruption of performance, apparent at the shortest delays but greater at longer delays, that was similar to the two lesion deficits combined, whereas physostigmine induced a mild but significant enhancement of performance. The results support the hypothesis that disruption of hippocampal circuitries, including cholinergic afferents via the fimbria-fornix, produces short-term or working memory impairments, whereas disruption of the cortical cholinergic system implicates more stable long-term aspects of task performance. Peripherally administered cholinergic drugs produce both types of effect and thus may influence both systems.