Combined neuropathological and neurochemical assessment of the nucleus of Meynert in senile dementia of Alzheimer type (SDAT) have demonstrated that the cholinergic biochemical activity, choline acetyltransferase, is more extensively reduced in the nucleus (over 90%) than the loss of putative cholinergic perikarya (35%). Acetylcholinesterase histochemical activity was however substantially retained in individual neurones in the nucleus although virtually absent from the neocortex in SDAT. These abnormalities are consistent with a primary degeneration of cholinergic axons projecting to the cortex and secondary loss of perikarya from the subcortical nucleus. In contrast, preliminary observations on cases of Parkinson's disease suggest that the neuronal loss from the nucleus of Meynert may be greater in this disease than in SDAT, and previous studies have not consistently demonstrated a reduction in cortical choline acetyltransferase activities in Parkinson's disease. These observations, together with major differences in the neuropathology of the nucleus in SDAT and Parkinson's disease (neurofibrillary tangle and Lewy body formation, respectively) suggest that the involvement of the cholinergic system may differ in the two disease processes.