Previous reports have described increases in the size and number of cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain in p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75(NTR)) knockout mice. In an earlier study, we also found improved spatial memory in these mice, raising the possibility that p75(NTR) regulates hippocampal function by its effects on the cholinergic basal forebrain. We therefore investigated hippocampal long-term potentiation in p75(NTR) knockout mice that shared the same genetic background as control 129/Sv mice. We also investigated heterozygous mice, carrying just one functional p75(NTR) allele. The p75(NTR) knockout mice had enhanced long-term potentiation in the Schafer collateral fiber synapses of the hippocampus. Heterozygous mice had an intermediate level, greater than controls but less than knockout mice. Hippocampal choline acetyltransferase activity was also markedly elevated in p75(NTR) knockout mice, with a smaller increase in heterozygous mice. In the Barnes maze, p75(NTR) knockout mice displayed markedly superior learning to controls, and this was evident over the three age brackets tested. At each age, the performance of heterozygous mice was intermediate to the other groups. In the open field test, p75(NTR) knockout mice exhibited greater stress-related behavioral responses, including freezing, than did control animals. There were no differences between the three groups in a test of olfactory function. The dose-dependent effects of p75(NTR) gene copy number on hippocampal plasticity and spatial memory indicate that p75(NTR) has profound effects on hippocampal function. Bearing in mind that p75(NTR) is very sparsely expressed in the adult hippocampus and has a potent effect on hippocampal choline acetyltransferase activity, the effects of p75(NTR) on hippocampal function are likely to be mediated indirectly, by its actions on basal forebrain cholinergic neurons.