1. Pharmacological and physiological methods were used to examine the role of acetylcholine (ACh) in modulation of the Lymnaea feeding central pattern generator (CPG) by the slow oscillator (SO) interneuron. 2. Extracts of dissected SO cell bodies inhibited spontaneous ventricular contractions of the clam Mya arenaria, indicating the presence of ACh. These effects were blocked by the specific antagonist benzoquinonium chloride (10(-7) M). 3. Isolated SO cells grown in culture synthesized ACh from tritiated choline. 4. High [K+] saline induced release of synthesized ACh from cultured SO cells into the medium. 5. The specific ACh antagonist phenyltrimethylammonium (10(-4) M) blocked both excitatory, biphasic (inhibitory-excitatory) and inhibitory monosynaptic connections from the SO to feeding CPG interneurons and motor neurons. Less specific cholinergic antagonists blocked either excitatory (hexamethonium, 10(-4) M) or both excitatory and inhibitory connections (d-tubo-curarine, 10(-4) M). 6. The synaptic responses of the SO could be mimicked by brief (20 ms) pressure-pulsed application of ACh onto the cell bodies of the postsynaptic cells in high-Mg2+ saline. In normal saline, ACh elicited bursts of spikes in the N1 cells, indicating that a fictive feeding pattern had been induced in the CPG. This mimics the main mechanism by which the SO activates the CPG, which is by exciting the N1s. 7. The frequency of SO-induced fictive feeding rhythm was reduced by bath application of hexamethonium chloride to the buccal ganglia. This reduced the amplitude of the SO-->N1 excitatory synaptic response (30% of controls) and is probably the main mechanism for the reduction in the frequency of the rhythm. 8. The evidence suggests that ACh is the main neurochemical involved in allowing the SO to initiate and control the frequency of the Lymnaea feeding CPG.