Tetranitromethane (TNM) modifies the muscarinic receptors from rat cerebral cortex. The modified receptor possesses an increased binding affinity (6-9-fold) toward several agonists such as acetylcholine, carbamoylcholine, arecoline, etc. The binding of antagonists (Bmax and Kd) is only slightly altered. The effects of TNM treatment can be prevented by atropine, thus indicating that TNM modifies residue(s) at the binding site. We carried out a series of successive chemical modifications which indicated that the modified residue(s) is (are) most probably a tyrosyl and not a cysteinyl residue. This conclusion gains support from the pH profile of agonist binding, which suggests the involvement of a residue with an apparent pK comparable to that of the phenolic hydroxyl of a nitrotyrosyl residue. The binding properties of the modified receptor, when compared to those of the native one, clearly indicate that the response to TNM modification with respect to the binding of agonists such as acetylcholine and carbamoylcholine is different from that when oxotremorine and its analogue are employed. This is interpreted as being the result of different binding modes exhibited by the various agonists. Nitration of the receptors can be prevented by the presence of an antagonist but not by an agonist. We propose that this differential response is due to the formation of ligand-receptor complexes that differ with respect to the microenvironment of the modified tyrosyl residue.