The output of GABAergic medium-sized spiny neurons in the dorsal striatum is controlled in part by glutamatergic input from the neocortex and the thalamus, and dopaminergic input from ventral midbrain. We acutely isolated these neurons from juvenile (P14-24) rats to study the consequences of the interaction between glutamate and dopamine for neuronal excitability. Single-cell RT-PCR analysis was used to identify the expression patterns of dopamine receptors. D1 and D2 dopamine receptor mRNA was detected in 11/22 and 3/22 of isolated neurons, respectively. Receptor mRNA co-expression was detected in 1/22 cells tested. Whole-cell voltage clamp recording (V(h)=-70 mV) was combined with local or bath application of dopaminergic and glutamatergic agonists to explore dopamine receptor modulation of glutamatergic excitation. Glutamate-evoked inward currents (5 microM, Mg(2+)-free, 1 microM glycine) were attenuated by dopamine (5 microM) to 83.2+/-3.6% (n=31). NMDA-evoked (20 microM), APV-sensitive currents were attenuated by dopamine to 80.9+/-4.5% (n=24). NMDA-induced responses were also attenuated by the D1 receptor agonist SKF 38393 (1 microM; n=28), while the D2/3 receptor agonist quinpirole (10 microM) had no effect. The currents evoked by application of AMPA (5 microM) displayed a steady rundown. Application of dopamine abolished or significantly reduced the rundown in the cells tested (n=17). A similar effect was observed after the application of SKF 38393 (1 microM), while quinpirole (10 microM) had no significant effect. Our results provide direct evidence for modulation by dopamine of glutamatergic responses of striatal medium spiny neurons, and demonstrate that the effects of this neuromodulator are receptor subtype specific. Disruption of this modulatory effect is likely to contribute to movement disorders associated with Parkinson's disease.