The human neuroblastoma cells SH-SY5Y were treated with the differentiation agents 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) or dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and the muscarinic receptor subtype M1 and M2 RNA levels analyzed. After a decrease induced by both agents, the M1 level gradually returned to normal in the presence of TPA but remained minimal with DMSO. As for M2, several phases were observed with TPA, while DMSO caused a drastic increase. The data obtained with TPA were tentatively correlated with the amounts of immunoreactive PKC alpha. In conclusion, our results reveal: (a) differential regulation of M1 and M2 muscarinic receptor subtypes by either treatment; (b) opposing effects of TPA and DMSO on both subtypes.