Behavioral sensitization to amphetamine involves the mesoaccumbens dopamine system and is accompanied by cellular changes in this system. Excitatory amino acid antagonists, when co-administered with amphetamine, prevent both behavioral sensitization and associated changes in the mesoaccumbens dopamine system. This suggests that excitatory amino acid-dependent events are critical to the initiation of sensitization. This study sought to identify excitatory amino acid projections required for sensitization, focusing on projections to the nucleus accumbens or ventral tegmental area. The major excitatory projections to the nucleus accumbens originate in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex and amygdala also send excitatory projections to the ventral tegmental area. Ibotenic acid lesions of the prefrontal cortex or amygdala and electrolytic lesions of the fornix were performed in rats. After one week of recovery, rats were treated with water or 2.5 mg/kg amphetamine for six days and challenged with amphetamine on day 8. Activity was tested in photobeam cages on days 1 and 8. On day 1, control and sham-lesioned rats exhibited stereotyped behaviors followed by a period of post-stereotypy locomotion. On day 8, sensitization was evident as an enhancement of both stereotypy and post-stereotypy locomotion. Co-administration of N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonists [MK-801 (dizocilpine maleate) or CGS 19755] with amphetamine prevented the development of sensitization of both stereotypy and post-stereotypy locomotion. Neither antagonist, however, prevented the expression of sensitization. None of the lesions completely mimicked these effects of N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonists. Lesions of hippocampal projections traveling in the fornix produced a general disinhibition of locomotor activity, but did not prevent sensitization of either stereotypy or post-stereotypy locomotion. Lesions of the prefrontal cortex failed to prevent sensitization of stereotypy was obtained following repeated amphetamine administration. However, like prefrontal cortical lesions, amygdala lesions prevented sensitization of post-stereotypy locomotion. When interpreted in the light of previous studies demonstrating the importance of the ventral tegmental area in the initiation of sensitization, the present results suggest a likely role for neuronal circuits involving the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and ventral tegmental area in the development of sensitization of post-stereotypy locomotion following repeated amphetamine administration. Such circuits may initiate sensitization through a mechanism involving excitatory amino acid regulation of the activity of mesoaccumbens dopamine neurons. Parallel circuits, involving other brain regions, may similarly contribute to sensitization of stereotyped behaviors.