Cognitive impairment caused by diabetes has been gradually recognized. Generally, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) play an important role in the pathogenesis in dementia disorders including Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, the expression of nAChRs in the brains of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is unexplored. This study explored the alterations of nAChRs in the postmortem brains of patients with T2DM and brains of db/db mice. Morris water maze test was used to appraise the ability of spatial learning and memory; Western blotting and RT-qPCR were performed to determine the expressions of target protein and mRNA, respectively; TUNEL was used to detect the apoptosis of neurons. We found that the protein levels of nAChR α7 and α4 subunits were significantly decreased and the apoptosis rates in neurons elevated in the hippocampus of T2DM patients and db/db mice as comparison to controls. Furthermore, the db/db mice exhibited the impaired cognition, the elevated level of pro-apoptotic protein and the reduced level of anti-apoptotic and synaptic proteins. This study shows the lowered level of nAChR α7 and α4 subunits and the elevated apoptosis in the hippocampus of T2DM patients and db/db mice, which might help explain the impaired cognition in T2DM.