We studied the control of pharyngeal excitation in Caenorhabditis elegans. By laser ablating subsets of the pharyngeal nervous system, we found that the MC neuron type is necessary and probably sufficient for rapid pharyngeal pumping. Electropharyngeograms showed that MC transmits excitatory postsynaptic potentials, suggesting that MC acts as a neurogenic pacemaker for pharyngeal pumping. Mutations in genes required for acetylcholine (ACh) release and an antagonist of the nicotinic ACh receptor (nAChR) reduced pumping rates, suggesting that a nAChR is required for MC transmission. To identify genes required for MC neurotransmission, we screened for mutations that cause slow pumping but no other defects. Mutations in two genes, eat-2 and eat-18, eliminated MC neurotransmission. A gain-of-function eat-18 mutation, ad820sd, and a putative loss-of-function eat-18 mutation, ad1110, both reduced the excitation of pharyngeal muscle in response to the nAChR agonists nicotine and carbachol, suggesting that eat-18 is required for the function of a pharyngeal nAChR. Fourteen recessive mutations in eat-2 fell into five complementation classes. We found allele-specific genetic interactions between eat-2 and eat-18 that correlated with complementation classes of eat-2. We propose that eat-18 and eat-2 function in a multisubunit protein complex involved in the function of a pharyngeal nAChR.