To study the effect of reduced cortical cholinergic activity on GABAergic and glutamatergic mechanisms in cholinoceptive cortical target regions a novel cholinergic immunotoxin (conjugate of the monoclonal antibody 192IgG against the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor with the cytotoxic protein saporin) was applied, which specifically and selectively destroys cholinergic cells in rat basal forebrain nuclei. To correlate the responses to cholinergic immunolesion in cholinoceptive cortical target regions with cholinergic hypoactivity, quantitative receptor autoradiography to measure NMDA, AMPA and kainate glutamate receptor subtypes, GABAA and benzodiazepine receptors as well as choline uptake sites, and histochemistry to estimate acetylcholinesterase activity were performed in adjacent brain sections. One week after a single intraventricular injection of 4 micrograms of 192IgG-saporin, NMDA receptor binding was markedly reduced in cortical regions displaying a reduced activity of acetylcholinesterase and high-affinity choline uptake sites as a consequence of cholinergic lesion, whereas AMPA and kainate binding sites were significantly increased in these regions. Muscimol binding to GABAA receptors was increased in the caudal portions of frontal and parietal cortices as well as occipital and temporal cortex as compared to the corresponding brain regions from vehicle-injected control rats. Binding levels of benzodiazepine receptors were not affected by the lesion in any of the cortical regions studied. The differential changes in glutamate and GABA receptor subtypes following cholinergic immunolesion might be regarded as the consequence of a cortical reorganization compensating for the reduced cholinergic presynaptic input. The data further suggest that presynaptic cortical cholinergic deficits might affect both glutamatergic and GABAergic functions with different intensity and different directions.