Intracellular recordings were performed in vitro from both pars compacta and pars reticulata neurones of the substantia nigra, and their postsynaptic responses to electrical stimulation within the nucleus were analysed. Intracellular staining by biocytin was used to reveal the morphology and location of the recorded neurone and its position and distance to the stimulating electrode. Inhibitory postsynaptic potentials in pars compacta neurones were evoked exclusively from a specific region of stimulation within the pars reticulata; this field could be mapped out as a cone-shaped region surrounding the apical dendrite of the cell and perpendicular to the plane of the pars compacta. Furthermore, hemitransection, prior to the experiments which eliminated the most likely source of extrinsic inhibition (the GABAergic striatonigral pathway) affected neither the generation of inhibitory postsynaptic potentials nor its topographic pattern during pars reticulata stimulation. In contrast to the response of dopaminergic pars compacta neurones, pars reticulata neurones responded to stimulation over wide areas of substantia nigra, without any clear site-specific selectivity. It is concluded that within the substantia nigra, dopaminergic neurones are arranged in functional modules such that most inhibition is derived from a highly local circuit with the collaterals of adjacent pars reticulata cells. This module is intrinsic to the substantia nigra and may represent the basic functional unit of the nucleus.