We described a family of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunits underlying cholinergic transmission in the central nervous system (CNS) of the mollusc Lymnaea stagnalis. By using degenerate PCR cloning, we identified 12 subunits that display a high sequence similarity to nAChR subunits, of which 10 are of the α-type, 1 is of the β-type, and 1 was not classified because of insufficient sequence information. Heterologous expression of identified subunits confirms their capacity to form functional receptors responding to acetylcholine. The α-type subunits can be divided into groups that appear to underlie cation-conducting (excitatory) and anion-conducting (inhibitory) channels involved in synaptic cholinergic transmission. The expression of the Lymnaea nAChR subunits, assessed by real time quantitative PCR and in situ hybridization, indicates that it is localized to neurons and widespread in the CNS, with the number and localization of expressing neurons differing considerably between subunit types. At least 10% of the CNS neurons showed detectable nAChR subunit expression. In addition, cholinergic neurons, as indicated by the expression of the vesicular ACh transporter, comprise ∼10% of the neurons in all ganglia. Together, our data suggested a prominent role for fast cholinergic transmission in the Lymnaea CNS by using a number of neuronal nAChR subtypes comparable with vertebrate species but with a functional complexity that may be much higher. © 2006 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.