The supramammillary nucleus (SUM), a dorsal layer of the mammillary body, has recently been implicated in positive reinforcement. The present study examined whether GABA(A) receptors in the SUM or adjacent regions are involved in primary reinforcement using intracranial self-administration procedures. Rats learned quickly to lever-press for infusions of the GABA(A) antagonist picrotoxin into the SUM. Although picrotoxin was also self-administered into the posterior hypothalamic nuclei and anterior ventral tegmental area, these regions were less responsive to lower doses of picrotoxin than the SUM. The finding that rats learned to respond selectively on the lever triggering drug infusions is consistent with picrotoxin's reinforcing effect. Coadministration of the GABA(A) agonist muscimol disrupted picrotoxin self-administration, and another GABA(A) antagonist, bicuculline, was also self-administered into the SUM; thus, the reinforcing effect of picrotoxin is mediated by GABA(A) receptors. Since rats did not self-administer the GABA(B) antagonist 2-hydroxysaclofen into the SUM, the role of GABA(B) receptors may be distinct from that of GABA(A) receptors. Pretreatment with the dopamine receptor antagonist SCH 23390 (0.05 mg/kg, i.p.) extinguished picrotoxin self-administration into the SUM, suggesting that the reinforcing effects of GABA(A) receptor blockade depend on normal dopamine transmission. In conclusion, the blockade of GABA(A) receptors in the SUM is reinforcing, and the brain 'reward' circuitry appears to be tonically inhibited via supramammillary GABA(A) receptors and more extensive than the meso-limbic dopamine system.