Microdialysis was used to compare the effect of local perfusion of cocaine with that of functionally similar compounds on extracellular norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin (measured simultaneously) in the ventral tegmental area of freely moving rats. Tetrodotoxin (1 microM) potently inhibited both basal and cocaine-induced dialysate monoamine outputs. The local anesthetic lidocaine produced little or no effect on the monoamine output, whereas all uptake blockers tested (at 0.1-1,000 microM) increased the monoamine output in a dose-dependent manner. The selective norepinephrine-uptake blockers desipramine and nisoxetine did not show any selectivity for norepinephrine, whereas the selective serotonin-uptake blockers fluoxetine and citalopram, as well as the selective dopamine-uptake blocker GBR 12935, preferentially (but not exclusively) increased their target amine. Cocaine at low concentrations (1-10 microM) increased the three amines similarly, but at higher concentrations (100-1,000 microM) caused a relatively higher dopamine output. A positive relationship between blocker-induced dialysate norepinephrine and dopamine outputs suggests significant interactions between monoamine systems. The present results indicate that cocaine's action in the ventral tegmental area involves not only a dopamine-, but also a norepinephrine- and a serotonin-related component, and that cocaine-induced monoamine increase is independent of its local anesthetic property.