The goal of this study was to understand how dopamine receptors, which are activated during psychostimulant administration, might influence glutamate-dependent forms of synaptic plasticity that are increasingly recognized as important to drug addiction. Regulation of the surface expression of the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate (AMPA) receptor subunit GluR1 plays a critical role in long-term potentiation, a well-characterized form of synaptic plasticity. Primary cultures of rat nucleus accumbens neurons were used to examine whether dopamine receptor stimulation influences cell surface expression of GluR1, detected using antibody to the extracellular portion of GluR1 and fluorescence microscopy. Surface GluR1 labeling on processes of medium spiny neurons and interneurons was increased by brief (5-15 min) incubation with a D1 agonist (1 microm SKF 81297). This effect was attenuated by the D1 receptor antagonist SCH 23390 (10 microm) and reproduced by the adenylyl cyclase activator forskolin (10 microm). Labeling was decreased by glutamate (10-50 microm, 15 min). These results are the first to demonstrate modulation of AMPA receptor surface expression by a non-glutamatergic G protein-coupled receptor. Normally, this may enable ongoing regulation of AMPA receptor transmission in response to changes in the activity of dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens. When dopamine receptors are over-stimulated during chronic drug administration, this regulation may be disrupted, leading to inappropriate plasticity in neuronal circuits governing motivation and reward.