Transdermal delivery of cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEI) for treatment of dementia would have advantages associated with continuous dosing and enhanced compliance, but feasibility depends on achieving desired levels of central nervous system enzyme inhibition. We developed a patch technique for assessing delivery of ChEI in rats and examined two organophosphate compounds, metrifonate and DDVP, and a carbamate, heptylphysostigmine, for production of peripheral and central nervous system ChE inhibition at target levels. With DDVP, a log-dose/percent brain AChE inhibition was obtained over a range of 10-65% inhibition within a 10-fold concentration of inhibitor in the patch. Brain cholinesterase was inhibited up to seven days after a 24-h patch application. Long-term inhibition was greater than that attained after intramuscular injection, but without the rapid initial inhibition peak seen with the latter route. In contrast to DDVP, sustained high levels of brain enzyme inhibition could not be produced by transdermal delivery of metrifonate or heptylphysostigmine. Apparently DDVP has features, i.e., liquid state in pure form and high inhibitor potency, which make it particularly suitable for patch administration.