The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of dopamine (DA) on the excitability of dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) neurons using the patch-clamp technique in brain slices. Bath application of DA (1-300 microM) produced a concentration-dependent membrane depolarization in all 5-HT neurons examined. This effect persisted in the presence of tetrodotoxin (TTX; 1 microM) and low extracellular calcium. Moreover, blockade of ionotropic glutamate receptors with 6,7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (DNQX) and 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (AP5) did not prevent DA-induced depolarization, indicating that it was mediated by a direct effect of DA on 5-HT neurons. The DA-induced depolarization was not antagonized by selective alpha1-adrenergic receptor antagonists, prazosin and WB 4101, but by a nonselective DA receptor antagonist, haloperidol. In addition, the selective D2-like receptor agonist quinpirole and antagonist sulpiride mimicked and blocked DA-induced depolarization, respectively. These results indicate that DA-induced membrane depolarization in DRN 5-HT neurons is mediated by the activation of D2-like DA receptors. The DA-induced membrane depolarization and inward current were associated with an increase in membrane conductance. Examination of the current-voltage (I-V) relationship for the DA-induced inward current revealed that the amplitude of the current increased with membrane hyperpolarization and reversed polarity at a potential near -15 mV. These data suggest that DA-induced depolarization in DRN 5-HT neurons is not mediated by a decrease in potassium conductance, but most likely by the activation of a nonselective cation current.