Presynaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on striatal nerve terminals modulate the release of dopamine. We have compared the effects of a number of nicotinic agonists and antagonists on a perfused synaptosome preparation preloaded with [3H]dopamine. (-)-Nicotine, acetylcholine, and the nicotinic agonists cytisine and 1,1-dimethyl-4-phenylpiperazinium iodide (DMPP), at micromolar concentrations, stimulated the release of [3H]dopamine from striatal nerve terminals. Carbamylcholine was a much weaker agonist. The actions of (-)-nicotine, cytisine, and DMPP were inhibited by low concentrations of the nicotinic antagonists dihydro-beta-erythroidine, mecamylamine, pempidine, and neosurugatoxin; alpha-bungarotoxin was without effect, and extending the time of exposure to this toxin resulted in only very modest inhibition. This pharmacology points to a specific nicotinic receptor mechanism that is clearly distinct from that at the neuromuscular junction. Atropine failed to antagonise the effects of acetylcholine and carbamylcholine, suggesting that no muscarinic component is involved. The nicotinic receptor ligands (-)-[3H]nicotine and 125I-alpha-bungarotoxin bound to specific sites enriched in the synaptosome preparation. Drugs tested on the perfused synaptosomes were examined for their ability to interact with these two ligand binding sites in brain membranes. The differential sensitivity to the neurotoxins alpha-bungarotoxin and neosurugatoxin of the 125I-alpha-bungarotoxin and (-)-[3H]nicotine binding sites, respectively, leads to a tentative correlation of the (-)-[3H]nicotine site with the presynaptic nicotinic receptor on striatal nerve terminals.