Cannabinoids activate the firing of mesoprefrontocortical dopamine neurons and release dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. This study was undertaken with the aim of clarifying the interaction between cannabinoids and mesocortical system in the prefrontal cortex. The effect of Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta9-THC) and the synthetic CB1 agonist WIN55,212-2 (WIN) was studied by extracellular single unit recordings, in chloral hydrate anaesthetised rats, on the spontaneous activity of pyramidal neurons and on the inhibition produced on these neurons by the electrical stimulation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Intravenously administered Delta9-THC and WIN (1.0 and 0.5 mg/kg, respectively), increased the firing rate of pyramidal neurons projecting to the VTA. VTA stimulation produced a phasic inhibition (167 +/- 6 ms) in 79% of prefrontal cortex pyramidal neurons. Delta9-THC and WIN reverted this inhibition in 73% and 100% of the neurons tested, respectively. The subsequent administration of the selective CB1 antagonist SR141716A (1 mg/kg) readily suppressed the effects of both cannabinoids and restored the inhibitory response to VTA stimulation. Moreover, when administered alone, SR141716A prolonged the inhibition in 55.6% of the neurons tested. The results indicate that stimulation of CB1 receptors by cannabinoids results in an enhanced excitability of prefrontal cortex pyramidal neurons as indexed by the suppression of the inhibitory effect of VTA stimulation and by the increase in firing rate of antidromically identified neurons projecting to the VTA. Furthermore, our results support the view that endogenous cannabinoids exert a negative control on dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex. This study may be relevant in helping to understand the influence of cannabinoids on cognitive processes mediated by the prefrontal cortex.