The dorsolateral striatum, and the core and shell of the nucleus accumbens are three major anatomical regions of the striatal complex. The shell is considered as a part of the extended amygdala, and is involved in the control of motivation and reward. The core and the striatum are considered central to sensory motor integration. In this study we compared the responses of these three regions to mild stress and drugs of abuse by measuring extracellular dopamine (DA) concentrations and Fos-like immunoreactivity (Fos-LI). The results are summarrized as follows. (i) In unchallenged conditions, extracellular DA concentrations were highest in the dorsolateral striatum and lowest in the core, whereas Fos-LI was highest in the shell and lowest in the dorsolateral striatum. (ii) After challenges that increase DA by depolarizing DAergic neurons (injection stress or 2 mg/kg morphine), the shell presented the largest increase in DA levels and Fos-LI. (iii) After the administration of a DA-uptake blocker (15 mg/kg cocaine), the percentage increase in DA was still largest in the shell. However, the absolute increase in DA and Fos-LI in the shell and the dorsolateral striatum were similar. (iv) After a full D1 agonist (SKF82958), Fos-LI was highest in the shell and lowest in the dorsolateral striatum. In conclusion, the nucleus accumbens shell seems to be the area of the striatal complex most functionally reactive to stress and drugs of abuse. However, the dorsolateral striatum and the core appear functionally distinct, as for most of the parameters studied these two regions differed.