The aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis that 3, 4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) and dopamine (DA) in the gastrointestinal tract are to a large extent of exogenous origin and derived from food. Tissue concentrations of norepinephrine (NE), epinephrine (Epi), DA, DOPA, and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), as measured by reverse-phase HPLC with electrochemical detection, were studied in fed and 4-day-fasted Wistar rats as well as in sympathectomized and adrenodemedullated rats. Sympathectomy and adrenal demedullectomy decreased tissue concentrations of NE and Epi, respectively, but had no effect on the level of tissue DOPA. Large amounts of DOPA and DA were present in the gastrointestinal tract. Fasting decreased DOPA and DA in the stomach and DOPA concentrations in the quadriceps muscle but no concentrations in other organs. DOPAC in the heart decreased both in response to sympathectomy and to fasting, whereas DOPAC decreased in plasma after fasting and in skeletal muscle after sympathectomy. We conclude that the food content of DOPA and DA is of major importance for the metabolism of DA and, thus, for the dopamine-sulfate content in the gastrointestinal tract and in plasma. The decrease in muscle DOPA after fasting may be explained by less insulin being available during fasting for stimulation of DOPA uptake in the muscle depot. DOPAC in the organism seems to be of a dual origin, derived partly from DA in the food and partly from DA synthesized in sympathetic nerves.