Preliminary evidence indicates that dopamine given by mouth facilitates the learning of motor skills and improves the recovery of movement after stroke. The mechanism of these phenomena is unknown. Here, we describe a mechanism by demonstrating in rat that dopaminergic terminals and receptors in primary motor cortex (M1) enable motor skill learning and enhance M1 synaptic plasticity. Elimination of dopaminergic terminals in M1 specifically impaired motor skill acquisition, which was restored upon DA substitution. Execution of a previously acquired skill was unaffected. Reversible blockade of M1 D1 and D2 receptors temporarily impaired skill acquisition but not execution, and reduced long-term potentiation (LTP) within M1, a form of synaptic plasticity critically involved in skill learning. These findings identify a behavioral and functional role of dopaminergic signaling in M1. DA in M1 optimizes the learning of a novel motor skill.