Severe cholinergic loss occurs in the brains of patients with progressive supranuclear palsy. To evaluate the functional implications of this neuronal deficit, dose-response curves were obtained in patients with progressive supranuclear palsy and normal control subjects undergoing intravenous cholinergic blockade (scopolamine) and stimulation (physo-stigmine). Physostigmine had no significant neurobehavioral effects at any does in patients with progressive supranuclear palsy. Scopolamine, at low and medium doses, significantly impaired memory performance of both groups, but worsened the gait of only the patients. High-dose scopolamine, which could not be tolerated by the patients, resulted in gait deterioration among control subjects. Thus, patients with progressive supranuclear palsy have increased sensitivity to cholinergic blockade compared to control subjects. Since loss of cholinergic neurons appears to contribute to the pathogenesis of certain cognitive and motor deficits found in progressive supranuclear palsy, the use of oral anticholinergics should ordinarily be avoided in this disorder. On the other hand, physostigmine at clinically tolerated dose levels seems to be terapeutically ineffective.