The effect of a pro-erectile dose of apomorphine, a mixed dopamine receptor agonist, and of PD-168077 (N-[4-(2-cyanophenyl)piperazin-1-ylmethyl]-3-methylbenzamide maleate), a selective dopamine D4 receptor agonist, injected into the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus on the concentration of extra-cellular dopamine and its main metabolite 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) in the dialysate from the nucleus accumbens was studied in male rats. As expected, apomorphine (0.1microg) and PD-168077 (0.1microg) induced penile erection episodes, which occurred concomitantly to an increase in extra-cellular dopamine and DOPAC concentration in the dialysate from the shell of the nucleus accumbens, as measured by intracerebral microdialysis. When induced by apomorphine, these effects were reduced by 80% by raclopride, a selective D2/D3 receptor antagonist (1microg) and only by 40-45% by L-745,870 (1microg), a selective dopamine D4 receptor antagonist. When induced by PD-168077, these effects were reduced by more than 80% by L-745,870 (1microg), but only by 35-40% by raclopride. Irrespective of the dopamine agonist used to induce penile erection, the pro-erectile effect and the concomitant increase in dopamine and DOPAC concentration in the nucleus accumbens dialysate were almost completely abolished by d(CH(2))(5)Tyr(Me)(2)-Orn(8)-vasotocin(1microg), a potent oxytocin receptor antagonist, given into the lateral ventricles. The present results suggest that stimulation of dopamine receptors (mainly of the D2 to D4 subtype) in the paraventricular nucleus induces the release of oxytocin in brain areas that influence the activity of mesolimbic dopaminergic neurons mediating the appetitive and reinforcing effects of sexual activity. This provides evidence for a role of oxytocin in neural circuits that integrate the activity of neural pathways controlling the consummatory aspects of sexual behaviour (e.g., penile erection) with those controlling sexual motivation and sexual arousal.