The mesolimbic system of the brain has been shown to be involved in the reward properties of a number of agents. It is possible that release of monoamines by nicotine in this brain area could be related to the pleasurable aspects related to cigarette smoking. In this investigation, the effect of nicotine on the release of [3H]dopamine in the nucleus accumbens of the rat was studied. It was shown that nicotine produced a concentration-dependent increase in [3H]dopamine release at concentrations of 0.1 microM and above. The increase in release was found to be almost completely calcium dependent. The nicotine-induced release was only partially blocked by the nicotinic antagonists hexamethonium and d-tubocurarine. A number of cholinergic agonists, as well as other compounds, were tested for their capacity to mimic the effect of nicotine. At equimolar concentrations there was, at most, only 50% of the activity of nicotine. The results of this study demonstrate that nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens at concentrations similar to those in the blood of cigarette smokers. This suggests that the release of monoamines in specific nuclei of the mesolimbic system may be an important determinant of the desire to smoke cigarettes.