Rats were trained to self-administer nicotine on a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement. Infusion of the nicotinic antagonist chlorisondamine into the cerebral ventricles produced a sustained reduction in nicotine self-administration compared to vehicle-treated controls. Lesions of the mesolimbic dopamine system were produced by microinfusion of 6-hydroxydopamine into the nucleus accumbens. Following production of the lesions, nicotine self-administration was markedly reduced for the 3-week test period; motor impairment did not appear to be responsible. Post mortem analysis of brain tissue showed that the lesion produced a pronounced decrease in dopamine content of the nucleus accumbens and the olfactory tubercle, and a small depletion in the striatum. These data demonstrate that the reinforcing effects of nicotine occur within the central nervous system, and that the mesolimbic dopamine projection plays an important role in these effects.