Membranes prepared from rat cerebral cortex were solubilized in buffer containing 1% digitonin. Material present in the supernatant after centrifugation at 147,000 X g was shown to contain binding sites for both [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate [( 3H]QNB) and [3H]pirenzepine [( 3H]PZ). Recovery of binding sites was approximately 25% of the initial membrane-bound [3H]QNB binding sites. The Kd values for [3H]QNB and [3H]PZ binding to solubilized receptors were 0.3 nM and 0.1 microM, respectively. As has been observed previously in membrane preparations, [3H]PZ appeared to label fewer solubilized binding sites than did [3H]QNB. Maximum binding values for [3H]PZ and [3H]QNB binding to solubilized receptors were approximately 400 and 950 fmol/mg of protein, respectively. Competition curves for PZ inhibiting the binding of [3H]QNB, however, had Hill slopes of 1, with a Ki value of 0.24 microM. The k1 and k-1 for [3H]PZ binding were 3.5 X 10(6) M-1 min-1 and 0.13 min-1, respectively. The muscarinic receptor antagonists atropine, scopolamine and PZ inhibited the binding of [3H]QNB and [3H]PZ to solubilized receptors with Hill slopes of 1, as did the muscarinic receptor agonist oxotremorine. The muscarinic receptor agonist carbachol competed for [3H]QNB and [3H]PZ binding with a Hill slope of less than 1 in cerebral cortex, but not in cerebellum. GTP did not alter the interactions of carbachol or oxotremorine with the solubilized receptor. Together, these data suggest that muscarinic receptor sites solubilized from rat brain retain their abilities to interact selectively with muscarinic receptor agonists and antagonists.