The nucleus basalis of Meynert, the major source of cholinergic innervation of the cerebral cortex, was morphometrically investigated in 58 cases of neuropsychiatric disorders and compared to 14 controls. The results demonstrate a loss of neurons in the nucleus basalis of Meynert in Alzheimer's disease (70%), paralysis agitans (77%), and Korsakoff's disease (47%) but no marked reduction of neurons in postencephalitic parkinsonism, Huntington's disease, chronic alcoholism without dementia, schizophrenia and infantile brain damage. Neurons of the three subdivisions of the nucleus basalis of Meynert (the nucleus septi medialis, the nucleus of the diagonal band of Broca and the nucleus basalis Meynert neurons in the substantia innominata) may be affected in a different manner in different patients within a single group homogeneous with respect to the usual clinical and neuropathological diagnostic criteria. Cell loss in the basal forebrain is restricted to the large neurons of the nucleus basalis, the immediately adjacent neurons of the globus pallidus externus not being affected. The selective degeneration of these neurons provides the morphological correlate of the cortical cholinergic deficiency in these neuropathological conditions. The degeneration of this discrete cholinergic neuronal population in several disorders of higher cortical function is probably directly related to the progressive deterioration of memory and cognitive processes in affected patients.