Dopamine (DA) neurons of the substantia nigra (SN) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) respond to a wide category of salient stimuli. Activation of SN and VTA DA neurons, and consequent release of nigrostriatal and mesolimbic DA, modulates the processing of concurrent glutamate inputs to dorsal and ventral striatal target regions. According to the view described here, this occurs under conditions of unexpected environmental change regardless of whether that change is rewarding or aversive. Nigrostriatal and mesolimbic DA activity gates the input of sensory, motor, and incentive motivational (e.g. reward) signals to the striatum. In light of recent single-unit and brain imaging data, it is suggested that the striatal reward signals originate in the orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala (BLA), regions that project strongly to the striatum. A DA signal of salient unexpected event occurrence, from this framework, gates the throughput of the orbitofrontal glutamate reward input to the striatum just as it gates the throughput of corticostriatal sensory and motor signals needed for normal response execution. Processing of these incoming signals is enhanced when synaptic DA levels are high, because DA enhances the synaptic efficacy of strong concurrent glutamate inputs while reducing the efficacy of weak glutamate inputs. The impairments in motor performance and incentive motivational processes that follow from nigrostriatal and mesolimbic DA loss can be understood in terms of a single mechanism: abnormal processing of sensorimotor and incentive motivation-related glutamate input signals to the striatum.