Synaptic overflow of dopamine in the striatum has been investigated during electrical stimulation of the medial forebrain bundle in anesthetized rats. Dopamine has been detected with Nafion-coated, carbon-fiber electrodes used with fast-scan voltammetry. In accordance with previous results, dopamine synaptic overflow is a function of the stimulation frequency and the anatomical position of the carbon-fiber electrode. In some positions the concentration of dopamine is found to respond instantaneously to the stimulus when the time-delay for diffusion through the Nafion film is accounted for. In these locations the measured rates of change of dopamine are sufficiently rapid such that extracellular diffusion is not apparent. The rate of dopamine overflow can be described by a model in which each stimulus pulse causes instantaneous release, and cellular uptake decreases the concentration between stimulus pulses. Uptake is found to be described by a constant set of Michaelis-Menten kinetics at each location for concentrations of dopamine from 100 nM to 15 microM. The concentration of dopamine released per stimulus pulse is found to be greatest at low frequency (< or = 10 Hz) with stimulus trains, and with single-pulse stimulations in nomifensine-treated animals. The frequency dependence of release is not an effect of dopamine receptor activation; haloperidol (2.5 mg/kg) causes a uniform increase in release at all frequencies. The absence of diffusional effects in the measurement locations means that the constants determined with the electrode are those operant inside intact striatal tissue during stimulated overflow. These values are then extrapolated to the case where a single neuron fires alone. The extrapolation shows that while the transient concentration of dopamine may be high (200 nM) at the interface of the synapse and the extrasynaptic region, it is normally very low (< 6 nM) in the bulk of extracellular fluid.