Alpha6-containing (alpha6*) nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) are selectively expressed in dopamine (DA) neurons and participate in cholinergic transmission. We generated and studied mice with gain-of-function alpha6* nAChRs, which isolate and amplify cholinergic control of DA transmission. In contrast to gene knockouts or pharmacological blockers, which show necessity, we show that activating alpha6* nAChRs and DA neurons is sufficient to cause locomotor hyperactivity. alpha6(L9'S) mice are hyperactive in their home cage and fail to habituate to a novel environment. Selective activation of alpha6* nAChRs with low doses of nicotine, by stimulating DA but not GABA neurons, exaggerates these phenotypes and produces a hyperdopaminergic state in vivo. Experiments with additional nicotinic drugs show that altering agonist efficacy at alpha6* provides fine tuning of DA release and locomotor responses. alpha6*-specific agonists or antagonists may, by targeting endogenous cholinergic mechanisms in midbrain or striatum, provide a method for manipulating DA transmission in neural disorders.