Beta-phenylethylamine (beta-PEA) is an endogenous amine that is found in trace amounts in the brain. It is believed that the locomotor-stimulating action of beta-PEA, much like amphetamine, depends on its ability to increase extracellular dopamine (DA) concentrations owing to reversal of the direction of dopamine transporter (DAT)-mediated DA transport. beta-PEA can also bind directly to the recently identified G protein-coupled receptors, but the physiological significance of this interaction is unclear. To assess the mechanism by which beta-PEA mediates its effects, we compared the neurochemical and behavioral effects of this amine in wild type (WT), heterozygous and 'null' DAT mutant mice. In microdialysis studies, beta-PEA, administered either systemically or locally via intrastriatal infusion, produced a pronounced outflow of striatal DA in WT mice whereas no increase was detected in mice lacking the DAT (DAT-KO mice). Similarly, in fast-scan voltammetry studies beta-PEA did not alter DA release and clearance rate in striatal slices from DAT-KO mice. In behavioral studies beta-PEA produced a robust but transient increase in locomotor activity in WT and heterozygous mice. In DAT-KO mice, whose locomotor activity and stereotypy are increased in a novel environment, beta-PEA (10-100 mg/kg) exerted a potent inhibitory action. At high doses, beta-PEA induced stereotypies in WT and heterozygous mice; some manifestations of stereotypy were also observed in the DAT-KO mice. These data demonstrate that the DAT is required for the striatal DA-releasing and hyperlocomotor actions of beta-PEA. The inhibitory action on hyperactivity and certain stereotypies induced by beta-PEA in DAT-KO mice indicate that targets other than the DAT are responsible for these effects.