Ischemic events have been hypothesized to play a critical role on the pathogenesis of dementia and the acceleration of cognitive impairments. This experiment was designed to determine the consequences of microvascular ischemia on the cortical cholinergic input system and associated attention capacities. Injections of microspheres (≈50 µm diameter; ≈5000 microspheres/100 µL) into the right common carotid artery of rats served as a model of microvascular ischemia and resulted in decreases in the density of cholinergic fibers in the ipsilateral medial prefrontal cortex and frontoparietal areas. Furthermore, dense astrogliosis, indicated by glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) immunohistochemistry, was observed in the globus pallidus, including the areas of origin of cholinergic projections to the cortex. Fluoro-Jade B staining indicated that loss of neurons in the cortex was restricted to areas of microsphere-induced infarcts. Attentional performance was assessed using an operant sustained attention task; performance in this task was previously demonstrated to reflect the integrity and activity of the cortical cholinergic input system. Embolized animals' performance was characterized by a decrease in the animals' ability to detect signals. Their performance in non-signal trials remained unaffected. The residual density of cholinergic axons in prefrontal and frontoparietal areas correlated with the animals' performance. The present data support the hypothesis that microvascular ischemia results in loss of cortical cholinergic inputs and impairs associated attentional performance. Microsphere embolism represents a useful animal model for studying the role of interactions between microvascular disorder and impaired forebrain cholinergic neurotransmission in the manifestation of cognitive impairments.