Dopamine-containing neurones of the ventral tegmental area express neurotensin receptors which are involved in regulating cell firing and dopamine release. Although indirect evidence suggests that some neurotensin receptors may be localised on the nerve terminals of dopaminergic neurones in the striatum and thus locally regulate dopamine release, a clear demonstration of such a mechanism is lacking and a number of indirect sites of action are possible. We have taken advantage of a simplified preparation in which cultured rat ventral tegmental area dopaminergic neurones establish nerve terminals that co-release glutamate to determine whether neurotensin can act at presynaptic sites. We recorded glutamate-mediated synaptic currents that were generated by dopaminergic nerve terminals as an index of presynaptic function. The neurotensin receptor agonist NT(8-13) caused an inward current and an enhancement of the firing rate of dopaminergic neurones together with an increase in the frequency of spontaneous glutamate receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). Incompatible with a direct excitatory action on nerve terminals, NT(8-13) failed to change the amplitude of individual action potential-evoked EPSCs or the frequency of miniature EPSCs recorded in the presence of tetrodotoxin. However, NT(8-13) reduced the ability of terminal D2 dopamine receptors to inhibit action potential-evoked EPSCs in isolated dopaminergic neurones. Taken together, our results suggest that in addition to its well-known somatodendritic excitatory effect leading to an increase in firing rate, neurotensin also acts on nerve terminals. The main effect of neurotensin on nerve terminals is not to produce a direct excitation, but rather to decrease the effectiveness of D2 receptor-mediated presynaptic inhibition.