Acetylcholine mediates cell-to-cell communications in the skin. Human epidermal keratinocytes respond to acetylcholine via two classes of cell-surface receptors, the nicotinic and the muscarinic cholinergic receptors. High affinity muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChR) have been found on keratinocyte cell surfaces at high density. These receptors mediate effects of muscarinic drugs on keratinocyte viability, proliferation, adhesion, lateral migration, and differentiation. In this study, we investigated the molecular structure of keratinocyte mAChR and their location in human epidermis. Polymerase chain reaction amplification of cDNA sequences uniquely present within the third cytoplasmic loop of each subtype demonstrated the expression of the m1, m3, m4, and m5 mAChR subtypes. To visualize these mAChR, we raised rabbit anti-sera to synthetic peptide analogs of the carboxyl terminal regions of each subtype. The antibodies selectively bound to keratinocyte mAChR subtypes in immunoblotting membranes and epidermis, both of which could be abolished by preincubating the anti-serum with the peptide used for immunization. The immunofluorescent staining patterns produced by each antibody in the epidermis suggested that the profile of keratinocyte mAChR changes during epidermal turnover. The semiquantitative analysis of fluorescence revealed that basal cells predominantly expressed m3, prickle cells had equally high levels of m4 and m5, and granular cells mostly possessed m1. Thus, the results of this study demonstrate for the first time the presence of m1, m3, m4, and m5 mAChR in epidermal keratinocytes. Because keratinocytes express a unique combination of mAChR subtypes at each stage of their development in the epidermis, each receptor may regulate a specific cell function. Hence, a single cytotransmitter, acetylcholine, and muscarinic drugs may exert different biologic effects on keratinocytes at different stages of their maturation.