Optical recording with a voltage-sensitive dye was performed in visual cortical slices of the rat to determine the effect of acetylcholine (ACh) on the spread of excitation. In the presence of ACh, the spread of excitation initiated by stimulation at the white matter/layer VI (WM/VI) was greatly suppressed throughout the cortex, with less suppression in the middle layers. By comparing the effect of ACh with that of 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX), the fraction of the synaptic component that was sensitive to ACh was evaluated. ACh suppressed ∼ 40–50% (maximum 55.8%, n = 11) of the initial synaptic component in the superficial and deep layers. In the middle, however, the effect was weakest and only ∼ 20–30% (minimum 20.9%, n = 11) of the initial synaptic component was suppressed. On the basis of histological analysis, the region with the weakest ACh effect extended from upper V to lower II/III. To identify the site of ACh action in terms of pre- versus postsynaptic localization, exogenous glutamate was applied. Because ACh did not suppress the excitation induced by glutamate, the site of the ACh action was indicated to be presynaptic. When layer II/III was stimulated instead of WM/VI, the suppression was uniform throughout the cortex. A muscarinic receptor antagonist, atropine, blocked the suppression by ACh. In conclusion, our results indicate the following two points. First, ACh strongly suppresses intracortical connectivity through presynaptic muscarinic receptors. Secondly, in contrast to the intracortical connection, some group(s) of fibres, possibly thalamocortical afferents that arise from white matter and terminate in the middle cortical layers are suppressed much less by ACh. While ACh has been reported to have confusingly diverse effects, e.g. direct depolarization and hyperpolarization as well as synaptic facilitation and suppression, its effect on the propagation of excitation is very clear; suppression on intracortical connection, leaving thalamocortical inputs rather intact. We postulate that cholinergic innervation enables the afferent input to have a relatively dominant effect in the cortex.