Incubation of cultured rat pituitary cell aggregates with [3H]choline ([3H]Chol) yielded a derivative that was identified as [3H]acetylcholine ([3H]ACh) by several criteria: 1) the [3H]Chol derivative with the highest retention time coeluted with a [14C]ACh standard in cation exchange and reverse phase HPLC; 2) cholinesterase treatment converted this derivative to a substance with the retention time of [3H]Chol; 3) two blockers of ACh production, hemicholinium and 4-[(1-naphthylvinyl)pyridinium], eliminated 3H-labeled material in the HPLC fractions with ACh retention time. Spontaneous [3H]ACh release was increased by depolarizing potassium concentrations, and both synthesis and release of ACh were increased by the glucocorticoid hormone dexamethasone. Double immunostaining of choline acetyltransferase (CAT) and, respectively, of ACTH, GH, PRL, TSH, S100, LH, and FSH in rat pituitary cells revealed that most of the CAT-immunoreactive cells were also ACTH immunoreactive. A small proportion (less than 10%) of the PRL-immunoreactive cells also showed CAT immunoreactivity, but all other cell types were negative. The immunocytochemical evidence for colocalization of CAT within the ACTH cell was strengthened by the finding of a significantly higher rate of [3H]ACh synthesis in a corticotroph-enriched cell population obtained by separating pituitary cells on a velocity sedimentation gradient. In addition, the mouse pituitary corticotropic cell line AtT20 contained CAT immunoreactivity, converted [3H]Chol to [3H]ACh, and released bioactive ACh-like material. In conclusion, the present data provide strong evidence that pituitary corticotrophs synthesize and release ACh, and that the activity of this intrapituitary cholinergic transmission system is under regulatory control.