The present investigation analyzes the cellular distribution of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) and the gamma isoform of protein kinase C (PKC) in the rat parietal cortex employing the monoclonal antibodies M35 and 36G9, respectively. Muscarinic cholinoceptive neurons were most present in layers 2, 3 and 5, whereas most PKC gamma-positive cells were found in layers 2, 5 and 6. Under normal, non-stimulated conditions, approximately 58% of all muscarinic cholinoceptive neurons were immunoreactive for PKC gamma. Conversely, nearly all PKC gamma-positive neurons were M35-immunoreactive. Although both pyramidal and nonpyramidal neurons express the two types of protein, the pyramidal cell type represents the vast majority. Of all cortical neurons, the large (15-25 microns in diameter) muscarinic cholinoceptive pyramidal neurons in layer 5 express the gamma isoform of PKC most abundantly and most frequently. Approximately 96% of these cells are immunoreactive for PKC gamma. Stimulation of mAChRs by the cholinergic agonist carbachol resulted in a pronounced increase in the intensity of 36G9 immunoreactivity, which may suggest that the mAChRs are functionally linked to the colocalized PKC gamma. No change was found in the number of 36G9-immunoreactive neurons. In contrast, the number of immunocytochemically detectable muscarinic cholinoceptive neurons increased by approximately 38% after carbachol stimulation. The high degree of codistribution in cortical neurons of both transduction proteins suggests a considerable cholinergic impact upon the regulation of PKC gamma, a candidate key enzyme in cortical learning and memory mechanisms.