Cholinergic interneurons provide rich local innervation of the striatum and play an important role in controlling behavior, as evidenced by the variety of movement and psychiatric disorders linked to disrupted striatal cholinergic transmission. Much progress has been made in recent years regarding our understanding of how these interneurons contribute to the processing of information in the striatum. In particular, investigation of the activity of presumed striatal cholinergic interneurons, identified as tonically active neurons or TANs in behaving animals, has pointed to their role in the signaling and learning of the motivational relevance of environmental stimuli. Although the bulk of this work has been conducted in monkeys, several studies have also been carried out in behaving rats, but information remains rather disparate across studies and it is still questionable whether rodent TANs correspond to TANs described in monkeys. Consequently , our current understanding of the function of cholinergic transmission in the striatum is challenged by the rapidly growing, but often confusing literature on the relationship between TAN activity and specific behaviors. As regards the precise nature of the information conveyed by the cholinergic TANs, a recent influential view emphasized that these local circuit neurons may play a special role in the processing of contextual information that is important for reinforcement learning and selection of appropriate actions. This review provides a summary of recent progress in TAN physiology from which it is proposed that striatal cholinergic interneurons are crucial elements for flexible switching of behaviors under changing environmental conditions.