Behavioral sensitization, the progressive and enduring augmentation of certain behaviors following repetitive drug use, alters rodent locomotion in a long-standing manner. The same dopamine pathways playing an important role in drug dependence and psychosis also play a critical role in sensitization. Individual dopamine receptor subtypes have markedly different functional responses to stimulation, with D3 dopamine receptor stimulation inhibiting rodent locomotion. The D3 receptor has highest affinity of the dopamine receptor subtypes for dopamine, and is occupied to a greater degree following stimulant drug administration. D3 receptor activity may be regulated through the expression of an alternatively spliced, truncated receptor isoform (termed 'D3nf') altering receptor localization and function via dimerization with the full-length subunit. The expected physiological response to repetitive drug administration is tolerance. Tolerance of D3 receptor inhibition of locomotion would contribute to sensitization to stimulant drugs. We hypothesize that repetitive D3 receptor stimulation contributes to the development of behavioral sensitization through decreased responsivity of D3-receptor-mediated locomotor inhibition. Increased D3nf expression may direct altered receptor localization and subsequent release of D3-receptor-mediated inhibition, contributing to the expression of sensitization. These hypotheses follow directly from the affinities of the receptor subtypes for dopamine; dopamine concentrations following stimulant administration; the effects of individual dopamine receptor subtype stimulation on locomotion; and the expected homeostatic response of the system to perturbation by drug. Clarifying these mechanisms underlying sensitization may suggest new interventions for neuropsychiatric conditions in which dopamine plays an important role, including psychosis, drug dependence, and Parkinson's disease. This information may also elucidate a previously unrecognized mechanism regulating receptor trafficking and desensitization.