Because an increase in extracellular levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens has been associated with the reinforcing effects of addictive drugs, we investigated whether U50,488, a selective kappa opioid receptor agonist, would alter cocaine-induced increases in extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens using in vivo microdialysis in awake and freely moving rats. Cocaine (20 mg/kg i.p.) produced a 10-fold increase in extracellular dopamine levels. Pretreatment (20 min beforehand) with U50,488 (10 mg/kg i.p.), which alone caused a modest decrease in dopamine levels, produced a 50% decrease in the effect of cocaine on dopamine levels. This attenuation was completely reversed by administration of a kappa opioid receptor antagonist, nor-binaltorphimine (10 mg/kg s.c.), 20 min before the agonist challenge. Treatment with nor-binaltorphimine alone induced a brief increase in dopamine levels. These findings indicate that activation of kappa receptors attenuates cocaine's effects and that kappa opioid receptor agonists may, therefore, be useful as functional cocaine antagonists.