The suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus (SCN) are the site of the master circadian clock in mammals. The SCN clock is mainly entrained by the light–dark cycle. Light information is conveyed from the retina to the SCN through direct, retinohypothalamic fibres. The SCN also receive other projections, like cholinergic fibres from basal forebrain. To test whether cholinergic afferents are involved in photic resetting, lesions of cholinergic projections were performed in rats with intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injections or intra-SCN microinjections of 192 IgG-saporin. When injected in the SCN, this immunotoxin destroys the cholinergic projections and retinohypothalamic afferents that express p75 low-affinity nerve growth factor (p75NGF) receptors. The extent of lesions in the basal forebrain and SCN was assessed by acetylcholinesterase histochemistry, p75NGF receptor, choline acetyl-transferase, calbindin-D28K and VIP immunocytochemistry. The intra-SCN treatment reduced light-induced phase advances by 30%, and induced a complete loss of forebrain and retinal afferents expressing p75NGF receptors within the SCN and a decrease of forebrain cholinergic neurons, most likely those projecting to the SCN. The i.c.v. treatment reduced light-induced phase advances by 40%, increased phase delays and led to extensive damage of forebrain p75NGF-expressing neurons, while sparing half of the fibres expressing p75NGF receptors (retinal afferents?) in the SCN. Because the integrity of forebrain p75NGF-expressing neurons appears to be critical in mediating the effects on light-induced phase advances, we therefore suggest that anterior cholinergic projections expressing p75NGF receptors modulate the sensitivity of the SCN clock to the phase advancing effects of light.