1. Intracellular recordings were made from neurones in vitro in the rat substantia nigra zona compacta and ventral tegmental area; the neurones had the characteristic properties of dopamine-containing cells, and fired action potentials spontaneously. 2. Cocaine (1-10 microM) inhibited spontaneous firing, hyperpolarized the membrane and (in neurones voltage-clamped at -60 mV) caused an outward membrane current; the minimally effective concentration was 1 microM. These effects were blocked by sulpiride (30 nM-1 microM). 3. Dopamine (3-100 microM) also inhibited firing, hyperpolarized and caused an outward current. These effects of dopamine were potentiated about five fold by cocaine (10 microM). 4. It is concluded that cocaine (1-10 microM) inhibits the firing and hyperpolarizes substantia nigra zona compacta neurones in vitro by blocking the uptake of dopamine which the cells continuously release.