Schizophrenic patients exhibit debilitating impairments of intellectual function. Typical and atypical antipsychotic medications are largely ineffective at treating the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia (CDS), and efforts to discover compounds that treat these symptoms are ongoing. Considerable tobacco use in schizophrenic patients, genetic linkage, and receptor binding studies suggest the involvement of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in schizophrenia. Neuronal α4β2 nAChRs are widely distributed in the mammalian brain, and are implicated in normal cognitive functioning in animal models. Ligands of various selectivity and potency have been used to study the role of the α4β2 subtype in schizophrenia. For instance, studies in rodents show that α4β2 agonists improve sensory gating, an information processing function that is deficient in schizophrenia. Pharmacological studies in animals also suggest that α4β2 nAChRs are involved in other cognitive domains that are impaired in schizophrenia, including speed of processing, working memory, visual learning and memory, and social cognition. The non-selective nAChR agonist nicotine has been shown to improve CDS in several human clinical studies, and recent trials have been undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of more α4β2 selective compounds. It remains to be determined whether α4β2 agonists will provide greater efficacy than nicotine for CDS or reducing tobacco use in patients. Pre-clinical evidence to date suggests that agonists of the nicotinic α4β2 subtype could be useful in improving cognitive function in schizophrenic patients.