1. Whole-cell recordings were made from striatal neurones obtained from neonatal rats and maintained in primary cultures. The effects of dopamine D1 receptor activation were studied on the voltage-gated sodium current. 2. Bath application of a specific D1 agonist, SKF38393 (1 microM), reduced the neuronal excitability recorded in current-clamp by increasing the threshold for generation of action potentials. 3. In voltage-clamp recordings, SKF38393 (1 microM) reversibly reduced the peak amplitude of the sodium current by 37.8 +/- 4.95%. This effect was reversed by the D1 antagonist SCH23390 and was blocked by the intracellular loading of GDP-beta-S (2 mM) suggesting GTP-binding protein involvement. 4. The D1 agonist reduced the peak amplitude of the sodium current without significantly affecting (i) the voltage dependence of the current-voltage relationship, (ii) the voltage dependence of the steady-state activation and inactivation, (iii) the kinetics of the time-dependent inactivation, and (iv) the kinetics of recovery from inactivation. 5. The peak amplitude of the sodium current was progressively reduced by intracellular loading of cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (100 U ml-1). 6. Diffusion of a specific peptide inhibitor of the cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (PKI; 10 microM) into the cytosol of neurones blocked the effect of the D1 agonist on the sodium current amplitude. 7. These results demonstrate that dopamine acting at the D1 receptor reduces the amplitude of the sodium current without modifying its voltage- and time-dependent properties. This effect involves activation of the cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase and results in a depression of the striatal neuronal excitability by increasing the threshold for generation of action potentials.