Increased plasma adrenalin (A) levels following arecoline in normal subjects and patients with multiple system atrophy (MSA) may result from nicotinic adrenal stimulation. Lack of this response in patients with pure autonomic failure (PAF) is consistent with peripheral sympathetic dysfunction. The mechanisms underlying diminished plasma corticotropin (ACTH) responses to arecoline may differ in patients with autonomic failure. Hypothalamic, cholinergic degeneration could prevent the response in MSA whereas patients with PAF do not manifest the normal increase in A which may be required to elicit an ACTH response. The appearance and exacerbation of tremor, vertigo, and pathological affect in the MSA group suggest that some central cholinergic receptors remain functional.