Modulation of acetylcholine release via adenosine receptors was studied in rabbit hippocampal slices, which were preincubated with 3H-choline and then continuously superfused. Electrical field stimulation of the slices elicited a release of acetylcholine, which was inhibited in a concentration-dependent manner by various adenosine receptor agonists. The effects of the agonists were antagonized by the methylxanthines. From the order of potency: cyclohexyladenosine greater than (-)phenylisopropyladenosine [-)PIA) greater than 5'-N-ethylcarboxamideadenosine (NECA) greater than 2-chloradenosine greater than (+)phenylisopropyladenosine greater than adenosine, the inhibitory adenosine receptor may be classified as A1-(R1-)receptor. In experiments on rabbit caudate nucleus slices, adenosine receptor agonists only slightly decreased the evoked acetylcholine release. The presence of an inhibitory tone of endogenous adenosine on hippocampal acetylcholine release is supported by the following findings: 1) the methylxanthines theophylline, 8-phenyltheophylline and 3-isobutylmethylxanthine (IBMX) increased the evoked acetylcholine release in concentrations below those required for phosphodiesterase inhibition. 2) Adenosine uptake inhibitors, in contrast, decreased the evoked transmitter release. 3) Deamination of endogenous adenosine by addition of adenosine deaminase to the medium enhanced the acetylcholine release. In conclusion, acetylcholine release in the hippocampus is depressed at the level of the cholinergic nerve terminals by endogenous adenosine via A1-(R1-)receptors.