In vivo microdialysis was used to determine the extent to which ionotropic glutamate receptors in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) regulate dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Coapplication of 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (AP5; 200 microM) and 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX; 50 microM) to the VTA via reverse dialysis decreased extracellular concentrations of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens by approximately 30%. In accordance with previous results, electrical stimulation of the prefrontal cortex increased dopamine release by 60%. Application of AP5 and CNQX to the VTA during cortical stimulation blocked the effect of stimulation on dopamine release. These results indicate that ionotropic glutamate receptors in the VTA are critically involved in basal and evoked dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and suggest that a glutamatergic projection from the prefrontal cortex regulates the activity of dopaminergic neurons in the VTA.