In vivo electrochemistry was used to characterize dopamine clearance in the medial prefrontal cortex and to compare it with clearance in the dorsal striatum and nucleus accumbens. When calibrated amounts of dopamine were pressure-ejected into the cortex from micropipettes adjacent to the recording electrodes, transient and reproducible dopamine signals were detected. The local application of the selective uptake inhibitors GBR-12909, desipramine, and fluoxetine before the application of dopamine indicated that at the lower recording depths examined (2.5-5.0 mm below the brain surface), locally applied dopamine was cleared from the extracellular space primarily by the dopamine transporter. The norepinephrine transporter played a greater role at the more superficial recording sites (0.5-2.25 mm below the brain surface). To compare clearance of dopamine in the medial prefrontal cortex (deeper sites only), striatum, and nucleus accumbens, varying amounts of dopamine were locally applied in all three regions of individual animals. The signals recorded from the cortex were of greater amplitude and longer time course than those recorded from the striatum or accumbens (per picomole of dopamine applied), indicating less efficient dopamine uptake in the medial prefrontal cortex. The fewer number of transporters in the medial prefrontal cortex may be responsible, in part, for this difference, although other factors may also be involved. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that regulation of dopaminergic function is unique in the medial prefrontal cortex.