Experiments were performed to confirm that noradrenergic terminals regulate extracellular concentrations of dopamine (DA) in the frontal cortex of rats. The effects of 20 mg/kg 1-[2-[bis(4-fluorphenyl)methoxy]-ethyl]-4-(3- phenylpropyl)piperazine (GBR 12909), a selective inhibitor of DA uptake, and 2.5 mg/kg desipramine (DMI) on the extracellular concentrations of DA in the frontal cortex and striatum were studied in rats given 6-hydroxydopamine (6 micrograms/microliters) bilaterally into the locus coeruleus to destroy noradrenergic terminals. GBR 12909 increased dialysate DA similarly in the striatum of vehicle and 6-hydroxydopamine-treated rats, whereas in the frontal cortex it raised DA concentrations only in lesioned animals. DMI raised extracellular DA concentrations in the frontal cortex but not in the striatum of controls. The effect of DMI on cortical DA was abolished by the 6-hydroxydopamine lesion. GBR 12909, at a subcutaneous dose of 20 mg/kg, further increased cortical dialysate DA in rats given DMI intraperitoneally at 20 mg/kg or through the probe at 10(-5) mol/L. The data support the hypothesis of an important regulation of the extracellular concentrations of DA in the frontal cortex by noradrenergic terminals.