The amygdala has been implicated in the neuronal sequelae of stress, although little is known about the neurochemical mechanisms underlying amygdala transmission. In vivo microdialysis was employed to measure extracellular levels of dopamine in the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala in awake rats. Once it was established that impulse-dependent release of dopamine could be measured reliably in the amygdala, the effect of stress, induced by mild handling, on amygdala dopamine release was compared with that in three other dopamine-innervated regions, the medial prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and caudate nucleus. The magnitude of increase in dopamine in response to the handling stimulus was significantly greater in the amygdala than in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex. This increase was maximal during the application of stress and diminished after the cessation of stress. In contrast, the increases in extracellular dopamine levels in other regions, in particular the nucleus accumbens, were prolonged, reaching maximal values after the cessation of stress. These results suggest that dopaminergic innervation of the amygdala may be more responsive to stress than that of other dopamine-innervated regions of the limbic system, including the prefrontal cortex, and implicate amygdalar dopamine in normal and pathophysiological processes subserving an organism's response to stress.