Previous studies have shown that the number of functional acetylcholine receptors (AcChoRs) on chicken ciliary ganglion neurons in culture is considerably smaller than the total number of AcChoRs detected on the neurons by labeled receptor probes. Here we use patch-clamp recording to show that a cAMP-dependent process enhances the AcCho response of the neurons by a mechanism likely to involve an increase in the number of functional AcChoRs. The increase occurs without requiring protein synthesis and without involving a detectable increase in the total number of AcChoRs on the cell surface measured with a labeled receptor probe. The results imply that the neurons have functional and nonfunctional pools of AcChoRs and that functional receptors can be recruited from intracellular receptors or from nonfunctional receptors on the cell surface by a cAMP-dependent process. A cAMP-dependent regulation of the number of functional neurotransmitter receptors would provide a reversible mechanism by which cell-cell interactions could modulate synaptic transmission in the nervous system.