Previous research has indicated that atypical antipsychotic drugs like clozapine preferentially increase dopamine (DA) release from the mesocortical, relative to the nigrostriatal, system, While these drugs generally have weak affinity for the D2 receptor subtype, they are potent antagonists of the 5-hydroxytryptamine2 (5-HT2) receptor. Research into neurotransmitter interactions indicates that 5-HT modulates DA release, but the nature of this interaction may depend upon the specific 5-HT receptor subtype and the neuronal location of that subtype. The present research tested the hypothesis that 5-HT2 receptors localized near mesocortical DA nerve terminals regulate DA release. This was accomplished by infusing the specific 5-HT2 antagonist ritanserin directly into the medial prefrontal cortex through reverse dialysis in vivo in the rat. Cortical extracellular fluid was then extracted by microdialysis and DA was subsequently assayed by HPLC with electrochemical detection. These results were compared to the systemic administration of ritanserin (1.0-5.0 mg/kg i.p.) and the local application of ICS 205,930, an antagonist at the 5-HT3/4 receptor subtypes. Both 5-HT antagonists increased cortical DA levels when infused locally at concentrations of 100 microM (12 nmoles/60 min), and these results were concentration-dependent. Systemically administered ritanserin also dose-dependently increased cortical DA efflux. These results indicate that atypical antipsychotic drugs may increase mesocortical DA release by antagonizing 5-HT receptors located in the prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, 5-HT may normally inhibit cortical DA release by actions at the 5-HT2 receptor subtype.