The dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain region of the central nervous system project an extensive network of connections throughout the forebrain, including the neocortex. The midbrain-forebrain dopaminergic circuits are thought to regulate a diverse set of behaviors, from the control of movement to modulation of cognition and desire--because they relate to mood, attention, reward, and addiction. Defects in these pathways, including neurodegeneration, are implicated in a variety of psychiatric and neurological diseases, such as schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, drug addiction, and Parkinson disease. Based on the importance of the midbrain dopaminergic neurons to normal and pathological brain function, there is considerable interest in the molecular mechanisms that regulate their development. The goal of this short review is to outline new methods and recent advances in identifying the molecular networks that regulate midbrain dopaminergic neuron differentiation and fate. Midbrain dopaminergic neurons are descended from progenitor cells located near the ventral midline of the neural tube floor plate around the cephalic flexure. It is now clear that their initial formation is dependent on interactions between the signaling molecules Sonic hedgehog, WINGLESS 1, and FIBROBLAST growth factor 8, but there is still an extensive wider network of molecular interactions that must be resolved before the complete picture of dopaminergic neuron development can be described.