Bromocriptine, a potent dopamine D2 receptor agonist, suppresses lipogenesis and improves glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. Recent evidence suggests that bromocriptine may produce these effects by altering central nervous system (CNS) regulation of metabolism. To determine whether or not the CNS plays a critical role in these bromocriptine-mediated effects on peripheral metabolism, we compared the metabolic responses to bromocriptine when administered peripherally versus centrally in naturally obese and glucose intolerant Syrian hamsters. Male hamsters (BW 194 +/- 5 g) were treated with bromocriptine or vehicle either intraperitoneally (i.p., 800 microgram/animal) or intracerebroventricularly (i.c.v., 1 microgram/animal) daily at 1 h after light onset for 14 days while held on 14-hour daily photoperiods. Glucose tolerance tests (GTTs, 3 g glucose/kg BW) were conducted after treatment. Compared to control animals, bromocriptine i.p. significantly reduced weight gain (11.7 vs. -2.4 g) and the areas under the glucose and insulin GTT curves by 29 and 48%, respectively. Similarly, compared with vehicle-treated controls, bromocriptine i.c.v. at 1 microgram/animal substantially reduced weight gain (8.7 vs. -6.3 g), the areas under the glucose and insulin GTT curves by 31 and 44% respectively, and the basal plasma insulin concentration by 41% (p < 0.05). Furthermore, both treatments significantly improved insulin-mediated suppression of hepatic glucose production during a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. Thus, daily administration of bromocriptine at a very low dose i.c.v. replicates the metabolic effects of bromocriptine administered i.p. at a much higher dose. This finding demonstrates for the first time that the CNS is a critical target of bromocriptine's metabolic effects.