Stimulation of the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system is considered of major importance for the rewarding and dependence producing properties of nicotine (NIC). To identify the site of this stimulatory action, simultaneous microdialysis was performed in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the ipsilateral nucleus accumbens (NAC) of awake rats. Extracellular concentrations of DA and its metabolites were measured in the NAC. NIC (0.5 mg/kg, s.c.) increased DA and its metabolites by approximately 50%. Concomitant infusion of the nicotinic receptor antagonist mecamylamine (MEC, 100 microM) through the VTA probe, starting 40 min before NIC injection, antagonized the NIC induced increases of DA and its metabolites. In contrast, similar MEC pretreatment (40 or 140 min) in the NAC did not affect DA or metabolite responses to systemic NIC. Infusion of NIC (1,000 microM) in the NAC or the VTA increased DA release by 49% and 48%, respectively, whereas only the VTA infusion increased metabolite concentrations by approximately 25%. MEC infusion (1-1,000 microM) in the VTA did not affect DA or its metabolites, whereas the 1,000 microM concentration infused in the NAC increased DA by 77%. These results suggest that nicotinic receptors in the somatodendritic region may be of greater importance than those located in the terminal area for the stimulatory action of systemic NIC on the mesolimbic DA system. Furthermore, our findings support the notion that the mesolimbic dopaminergic system is phasically rather than tonically regulated by nicotinic receptor activation within the VTA.