Dopamine transporter mRNA levels in the rat substantia nigra were quantified using a sensitive nuclease protection assay with a highly homologous human dopamine transporter cDNA clone. The same probe was also used to visualize dopamine transporter mRNA in the substantia nigra by in situ hybridization. Repeated cocaine administration (15 mg/kg, twice a day for 6.5 days) resulted in a greater than 40% decrease in nigral dopamine transporter mRNA levels. In contrast, dopamine transporter mRNA levels were unchanged after either acute treatment (4 h before death) or repeated cocaine treatment followed by a 72-h withdrawal period. Thus, blockade of the dopamine transporter by repeated cocaine administration may result in the down-regulation of dopamine transporter gene expression in dopamine neurons.