This study has investigated the possibility that acetylcholinesterase could play a non-classical role as an adhesion factor or growth factor in the development of dopaminergic neurons in organotypic slice culture of postnatal day 1 rats. When the culture medium was supplemented with acetylcholinesterase (3 U/ml), outgrowth of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive neurites was significantly enhanced. Addition of a specific inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, BW284c51, caused a decrease in the number of tyrosine hydroxylase neurons and a reduction in the cell body size and extent of neurite outgrowth of remaining neurons. However, echothiophate which also inhibits AChE activity, did not produce these effects. Therefore acetylcholinesterase could act as a growth enhancing factor for dopaminergic neurons, and disruption of an as yet unidentified site on the acetylcholinesterase molecule by BW284c51 could decrease the survival and outgrowth of these neurons.