To identify cholinergically mediated components in the optic nerve response (ONR) we studied effects of cholinergic agonists and antagonists in the arterially perfused cat eye. Acetylcholine, carbachol, scopolamine, quinuclidinylbenzilate and mecamylamine were applied intra-arterially in micromolar concentrations. Recordings of rod- and cone-driven ERG accompanied those of the ONR and revealed: (i) cholinergic agonists enhanced the b-wave, particularly under photopic conditions, whereas scopolamine decreased the b-wave. Mecamylamine induced biphasic effects (decrease followed by increase) in the amplitudes of the rod- and cone-driven b-waves. The effects on the cone-driven ERG were more marked than those on the rod-driven ERG. (ii) The ON-component of the ONR was increased, then decreased by acetylcholine. The cholinergic antagonists exerted complex changes in the ONR-ON component depending on dosage and adaptation. Scopolamine increased, then decreased the rod-driven ON-component, but mainly increased the cone-driven ON-component. Mecamylamine tended to increase the cone-driven, but to decrease the rod-driven ON-component of the ONR. (iii) The configuration of the rod- as well as for the cone-driven ONR, in particular the early plateau and OFF-components, were consistently and reversibly changed by cholinergic agonists, as well as by both muscarinic and nicotinic antagonists. Agonists decreased, and antagonists increased the amplitude of the plateau-component. We conclude that the ERG b-wave was enhanced by acetylcholine, but decreased by cholinergic antagonists. Cholinergic agonists and antagonists affect the same specific components of the ONR in a dose-related and reversible fashion, indicating a major contribution of cholinergic mechanisms to information processing in the cat retina.