The cholinergic neuronal structures and their synaptic connections in the main olfactory bulb of adult rats were analysed by using choline acetyltransferase immunocytochemistry. Within the glomeruli, cholinergic nerve fibers were restricted to strands which subdivided the neuropil into small compartments, the interior of which contained sensory axons but was devoid of cholinergic axons. Small numbers of choline acetyltransferase neurons were detected in all layers. Ultrastructural analysis revealed selective triadic synaptic relationships with different neuron classes in the intraglomerular area and in the external plexiform layer. These triads were made up of (i) a cholinergic axon, (ii) one or several periglomerular or granule cell dendrites, and (iii) usually one relay cell dendrite. In these triads, asymmetric cholinergic synapses were selectively focused on dendrites (gemmules and spines) of periglomerular or granule cells. Within the glomerulus, mitral and tufted cell dendrites were closely apposed to some cholinergic axon varicosities, most abundantly near arborizations of the apical dendrites. However, cholinergic synapses were never seen on any relay cell dendrite. In the external plexiform layer, cholinergic synapses were present on all parts of the superficial short-axon cells. In the internal plexiform layer and the granule cell layer, cholinergic axon varicosities exhibited close apposition or asymmetric synapses with granule cell gemmules. The data suggest that cholinergic projections from the basal forebrain to the main olfactory bulb focus synaptic innervation on interneurons. On relay cells, direct acetylcholine effects may occur, but these must be based on non-synaptic acetylcholine release at the surface of their dendrites.