Microdialysis was used to assess extracellular dopamine in striatum, nucleus accumbens, and medial frontal cortex of unanesthetized rats both under resting conditions and in response to intermittent tail-shock stress. The dopamine metabolites 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid also were measured. The resting extracellular concentration of dopamine was estimated to be approximately 10 nM in striatum, 11 nM in nucleus accumbens, and 3 nM in medial frontal cortex. In contrast, the resting extracellular levels of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid were in the low micromolar range. Intermittent tail-shock stress increased extracellular dopamine relative to baseline by 25% in striatum, 39% in nucleus accumbens, and 95% in medial frontal cortex. 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid also were generally increased by stress, although there was a great deal of variability in these responses. These data provide direct in vivo evidence for the global activation of dopaminergic systems by stress and support the concept that there exist regional variations in the regulation of dopamine release.