Brain acetylcholine release and memory performance were investigated in young (three- to six-months) and old (20- to 24-months) rats. Acetylcholine release was measured in vivo in the cortex and hippocampus of freely-moving animals, under basal conditions and in the presence of the following muscarinic antagonists: scopolamine, (+/-)-5,11-dihydro-11-[[(2-[2-[(dipropylamino) methyl]-1-piperidinyl]ethyl) amino] carbonyl]-6H-pyrido(2,3-b)(1,4)-benzodiazepine-6-one (AFDX 384) and pirenzepine. The amount of acetylcholine released from the cortex and hippocampus of old rats was significantly reduced. In the presence of scopolamine and AFDX 384 but not of pirenzepine, the acetylcholine release was significantly higher in the old than the young rats, suggesting that changes in presynaptic M2/M4 muscarinic receptor function occur with ageing in the two brain regions. Cognitive capacities were evaluated using two different behavioural tasks: object recognition and passive avoidance response. Old rats were unable to discriminate between familiar and novel objects and had impaired performance in the passive avoidance test. AFDX 384 restored the performance in both tests. Furthermore, in young rats AFDX 384 reversed the impairment of both object recognition and passive avoidance response induced by scopolamine. The effect of AFDX 384 on acetylcholine release and behaviour in the old rats offers further support to a relationship between the age-related cholinergic hypofunction and cognitive impairment and indicates the blockade of presynaptic muscarinic receptors as a possible selective target for therapeutic strategies aimed at improving age-associated memory deficits.