Dopamine (DA) is synthesized and released not only from the terminals of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic neuronal pathway, but also from the dendrites in the substantia nigra. We have investigated the regulation of the DA turnover, the DA synthesis rate, and the DA release in the substantia nigra pars compacts (SNpc) and pars reticulata (SNpr) in vivo. As a measure of DA turnover, we have assessed the concentrations of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid. As a measure of the DA synthesis rate, we have determined the 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine accumulation after inhibition of aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase by 3-hydroxybenzylhydrazine. As a measure of DA release, we have investigated the disappearance rate of DA after inhibition of its synthesis by alpha-methyl-p-tyrosine and the 3-methoxytyramine accumulation following monoamine oxidase inhibition by pargyline. Both the DA turnover and the DA synthesis rate increased following treatment with the DA receptor antagonist haloperidol and decreased following treatment with the DA receptor agonist apomorphine in the SNpc and in the SNpr, but the effects of the drugs were less pronounced than in the striatum. gamma-Butyrolactone treatment, which suppresses the firing of the dopaminergic neurons, increased the DA synthesis rate in the striatum (165%), but had no such effect in the SNpc or SNpr. Haloperidol, apomorphine, and gamma-butyrolactone increased, decreased, and abolished, respectively, the DA release in the striatum, but the drugs had no or only slight effects on the alpha-methyl-p-tyrosine-induced DA disappearance and on the pargyline-induced 3-methoxytyramine accumulation in the SNpc or SNpr. Taken together, these results indicate that the DA synthesis rate, but not the DA release, are influenced by DA receptor activity and neuronal firing in the SNpc and SNpr. This is in contrast to the situation in the striatum, where both the DA synthesis rate and the DA release are under such control.