The neuropeptides substance P, neurotensin and [Met]enkephalin are found in the ventral tegmental area, site of the A10 dopamine cell bodies. Evidence suggests a functional interaction between these peptides and the dopaminergic neurons. All three peptides have been shown to exert an activating effect on these neurons. The present study analyzed the effects of ventral tegmental area infusion of neurotensin, substance P and D-ala-[Met]enkephalin on feeding behavior. These effects were studied in both food-deprived and satiated rats. During a 30 min test, the following parameters were registered: latency to eat, total food intake, food spillage, number of eating bouts and duration of eating. Similar measures were taken for drinking. In deprived rats substance P (0.5, 3.0 micrograms) increased latency to eat but did not affect other parameters, and substance P did not affect eating in satiated rats. Neurotensin (0.5, 2.5 micrograms) increased latency to eat and markedly reduced food consumption in deprived rats and had no effect in satiated rats. D-Ala-[Met]enkephalin (0.1, 1.0 micrograms) stimulated feeding behavior in both deprived and satiated rats. These results show that although the different peptides are presumed to activate the dopaminergic A10 neurons, their effects on feeding behavior can be differentiated. The findings are discussed in terms of motor and motivational mechanisms, and the relative contributions of specific and non-specific influences on feeding are considered.