Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are important for maintaining optimal memory performance. In order to more fully characterize the involvement of nicotinic systems in memory, the contributions of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes were investigated. This study targeted the alpha 7 and alpha 4 beta 2 nicotinic receptors in the ventral hippocampus, an area known to be important for spatial working memory. Antagonists of alpha 7 and alpha 4 beta 2 receptors were locally infused into the ventral hippocampus of rats and the effects on memory were examined with the radial-arm maze. The subtype-specific competitive antagonists infused into separate groups of rats were methyllycaconitine citrate (an alpha 7 antagonist) and dihydro-beta-erythroidine hydrobromide (an alpha 4 beta 2 antagonist). Their effects on radial-arm maze performance were contrasted with the non-specific competitive antagonist, D-tubocurarine chloride. Significant deficits in radial-arm maze choice accuracy performance were found at 78.7 micrograms/side for methyllycaconitine and at 106.9 micrograms/side for dihydro-beta-erythroidine. Increased response latency was also seen at these doses. Tubocurarine induced seizures at doses previously reported to have no effect. Wet dog shakes were seen in most rats at 0.1 microgram/side with tubocurarine, 26.3 micrograms/side with methyllycaconitine and 106.9 micrograms/side with dihydro-beta-erythroidine. This study suggests that both alpha 7 and alpha 4 beta 2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subtypes are involved in working memory formation and that the hippocampus is a critical site for nicotinic cholinergic involvement in memory function, though the high doses of antagonists needed to produce the memory impairment may have had less than completely specific effects.