To provide anatomical information on the complex effects of acetylcholine (ACh) in the olfactory bulb (OB), the distribution of different cholinergic muscarinic and nicotinic receptor sub-types was studied by quantitative in vitro autoradiography. The muscarinic M1-like and M2-like sub-types, as well as the nicotinic bungarotoxin-insensitive (alpha 4 beta 2-like) and bungarotoxin-sensitive (alpha 7-like) receptors were visualized using [3H]pirenzepine, [3H]AF-DX 384, [3H]cytisine and [125I] alpha-bungarotoxin (BTX), respectively. In parallel, labelling patterns of [3H]vesamicol (vesicular acetylcholine transport sites) and [3H]hemicholinium-3 (high-affinity choline uptake sites), two putative markers of cholinergic nerve terminals, were investigated. Specific labelling for each cholinergic radioligand is distributed according to a characteristic laminar and regional pattern within the OB revealing the lack of a clear overlap between cholinergic afferents and receptors. The presynaptic markers, [3H]vesamicol and [3H]hemicholinium-3, demonstrated similar laminar pattern of distribution with two strongly labelled bands corresponding to the glomerular layer and the area around the mitral cell layer. Muscarinic M1-like and M2-like receptor sub-types exhibited unique distribution with their highest levels seen in the external plexiform layer (EPL). Intermediate M1-like and M2-like binding densities were found throughout the deeper bulbar layers. In the glomerular layer, the levels of muscarinic receptor subtypes were low, the level of M2-like sites being higher than M1. Both types of nicotinic receptor sub-types displayed distinct distribution pattern. Whereas [125I] alpha-BTX binding sites were mostly concentrated in the superficial bulbar layers, [3H]cytisine binding was found in the glomerular layers, as well as the mitral cell layer and the underlying laminae. An interesting feature of the present study is the visualization of two distinct cholinoceptive glomerular subsets in the posterior OB. The first one exhibited high levels of both [3H]vesamicol and [3H]hemicholinium-3 sites. It corresponds to the previously identified atypical glomeruli and apparently failed to express any of the cholinergic receptors under study. In contrast, the second subset of glomeruli is not enriched with cholinergic nerve terminal markers but displayed high amounts of [3H]cytisine/nicotinic binding sites. Taken together, these results suggest that although muscarinic receptors have been hypothesized to be mostly involved in cholinergic olfactory processing and short-term memory in the OB, nicotinic receptors, especially of the cytisine/ alpha 4 beta 2 sub-type, may have important roles in mediating olfactory transmission of efferent neurons as well as in a subset of olfactory glomeruli.