This study examined the effect of the cannabinoid receptor agonist, WIN 55212-2, on the electrically evoked release of [14C]acetylcholine (ACh) from superfused brain slices from the hippocampus, a region with a high density of cannabinoid receptors. A comparison was also made with [14C]ACh release from the nucleus accumbens, which has relatively fewer cannabinoid receptors. In the hippocampal slices, WIN 55212-2 produced a dose-dependent inhibition of [14C]ACh release, with an EC50 of 0.03 microM and a maximal inhibition of 81% at 1 microM. In the nucleus accumbens slices, WIN 55212-2 produced a weak inhibition of [14C]ACh release, which did not quite reach statistical significance. The inhibition of electrically evoked hippocampal [14C]ACh release by WIN 55212-2 could be prevented by the cannabinoid receptor antagonist, SR 141716A (EC50, 0.3-1.0 microM). In addition to antagonizing the effects of WIN 55212-2, SR 141716A alone produced a 2-fold potentiation of the electrically stimulated [14C]ACh release in this region (EC50, 0.1-0.3 microM). By contrast, in nucleus accumbens slices, no potentiation of the stimulated release of [14C]ACh release by SR 141716A was observed. Basal [14C]ACh release was unaffected by WIN 55212-2 or SR 141716A in either area. These results suggest that cannabinoid receptor activation can produce a strong inhibition of ACh release in the hippocampus. Furthermore, the potentiation of ACh release in the hippocampus by SR 141716A alone suggests either that this compound is an inverse agonist at cannabinoid receptors or it is antagonizing the actions of an endogenous ligand acting on these receptors.